Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series analyzing the turnaround of the Texas Tech baseball program in the second year under head coach Tim Tadlock.
Within the last two years, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt has had to replace the head coaches in all four major sports.
Some struggled, some met with a limited amount of success, and another re-energized the Red Raider fan base by winning his first seven games and ending with a dominating bowl victory.
The first one he hired, though, has put together one of the biggest year-to-year turnarounds in Big 12 Conference baseball history. By improving from 26 wins in 2013 to 37 through 53 games in 2014, Tim Tadlock has blown away the previous turnaround mark of four games set by Kansas State’s Brad Hill from 2004 to 2005.
Of the five other current Big 12 coaches who have coached their first two years in the Big 12, only Oklahoma State’s Josh Holliday has led or will lead a team to the NCAA postseason in the second year (OSU qualified in 2013 as well).
For hiring a guy with no NCAA Division I head coaching experience, Hocutt is looking like a genius.
“He’s just a winner,” Hocutt said. “It’s not a process that happens overnight. I believe that he had the vision and the leadership capabilities and the track record for success that’s given us the opportunity to build a program that can experience success. I believe we’re seeing the initial states of that.”
Where the Red Raiders are right now is in a position they haven’t been in since 2004. By most national pundits’ and publications’ projections (though Tadlock won’t say it), Tech is a virtual lock to end its 10-year NCAA postseason drought.
With an official Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 16 to start the week, the Red Raiders have shown their ability to compete, and succeed, against quality competition. Tech is 7-6 against the RPI Top 25, 12-12 against the Top 50 and 16-14 against the Top 100.
Up until last week’s sweep at the hands of Kansas, talk was beginning to swell around Tech possibly hosting an NCAA regional for the first time since 1999. Hocutt said Tech has compiled a “very proactive and aggressive” bid to host a regional that will be submitted by Friday’s deadline.
It probably won’t be the last, and continued success will only help the program grow both more in popularity and financially in terms of support and ticket sales.
Through 32 home games, Texas Tech ranks 20th in the nation in total attendance (72,678) and 30th in average attendance (2,271 per game). Season ticket sales jumped from 1,116 in 2013 to 1,276 in 2014.
“Baseball in West Texas is very important, and the fans have shown historically and currently that given the competitive quality of the product on the diamond that they will be there to support it,” Hocutt said. “It’s been a tremendous year, and fan support and ticket sales revenue have been very positive. That will continue to grow as we continue to build the program. I don’t know if we can get to a point in the future that it’s fully self-supported, but we can get close to that.”
In typical fashion, the NCAAs are about the furthest thing from Tadlock’s mind at the moment, rather focusing on next week’s opponent in West Virginia.
“Here’s the thing about us,” Tadlock said. “We’re coming off those three losses and a win in the midweek (over No. 37 RPI Dallas Baptist). But if you look at the whole season, we’ve had a good season as far as that goes. We’ve got a lot of respect for West Virginia, but at the same time, I think a lot of people in the country have a lot of respect for the Big 12. We’d love to hear our name called, simple as that.”
Tadlock is determined, however, to improve the Red Raiders’ resume, not only with the series against West Virginia but in the Big 12 Championships in Oklahoma City as well.
If the pundits are correct, it will be the first time since 2004 that a Tech team has not had to win the Big 12 tournament to clinch an NCAA berth. Like a protective parent, Tadlock does not want his team hearing the talk, though he knows it’s unavoidable.
“I think it would be premature to say that (Tech is guaranteed a berth) right now,” Tadlock said. “I don’t think that’s the right message for the team to hear right now. We all think about it, and we all want our name to be called. At the same time, we’ve got West Virginia coming to town, we’ve got the Big 12 tournament. We’re in a good position ... and people have said we’re in. But we’re not going to say it until somebody from the NCAA tells us.”
Even before the season began, Texas Tech was already making inroads in recruiting.
The current freshman class was ranked No. 27 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball and No. 24 by Perfect Game, and almost every single one of the signees has made an impact on the field at one point this season.
More importantly, the success of the 2014 team is making an impact on future classes, as well.
“(Recruiting coordinator J-Bob Thomas) did a great job with the (2015) class,” Tadlock said. “He had some guys committed in that class before anybody knew who they were. The advisors are usually ahead of people; well, we’re a year ahead of them. We’re ahead of the curve as far as the ’15 class. Our ’15 class is as good a class as anybody in the country right now.”
But Tadlock said the impact of the success from 2014 isn’t felt in signing players, but more in getting them to turn down the pros and come to college. And the farther Tech goes this spring, the more impact it will have for the classes of 2015 and 2016 when Tadlock and his staff battle for players against pro clubs.
“The deeper we play, the better chance we have at getting players to campus,” Tadlock said. “When you look at a baseball product, it’s just like watching a commercial on TV that makes you hungry. You’re going to look at that product in a baseball game, and that is going to make me want to go there. Guys having fun, that impacts recruiting. If a kid looks at Texas Tech and sees he’s going to develop, he’s going to have fun and get close to getting a degree ... it looks better than going and riding a bus and playing at 9 in the morning in a rookie-league game.”
One of the top names in the 2014 class is Howard College left-handed pitcher Tanner Scott, a native of Ohio who was 93-97 mph in his start against Temple College on Saturday at the Texas-New Mexico Junior College regional tournament at Rip Griffin Park.
Scott said he hasn’t yet given much thought to the decision he will face after the draft in June.
“Right now I’m just living, going day by day and seeing where it takes me,” Scott said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen.
“I love the coaching staff, it’s great. Tadlock’s cool. J-Bob is a funny guy for sure. (Pitching coach Ray) Hayward’s a good pitching coach. The atmosphere here, the turf field. It’s beautiful.”
And, as usually happens, the success of the team will result in some losses to the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Tadlock said he expects to likely lose junior left-handed pitcher Chris Sadberry and junior right-hander Dominic Moreno. With junior shortstop Tim Proudfoot’s stellar season, Tadlock said there’s a chance of losing him as well, and there’s a shot that junior right-hander Corey Taylor could get some decent looks from the pros.
Tadlock’s hope is that the success will also work toward Tech’s advantage.
“With the response the Big 12 is getting now and all the things working out how they work out, if we could play for a while,” Tadlock said, “guys might get that taste of postseason baseball and a taste of winning in the postseason that they’d like and would come back. I don’t think any of those guys are going to sign for chump change, either.”
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