For the first time in a decade, a Texas Tech baseball team makes the trek to Oklahoma City all but guaranteed to play next week.
Where they play, however, could still be up to them.
Thanks to Saturday’s 4-0 victory over West Virginia, the 23rd-ranked Red Raiders clinched their third Big 12 Conference series sweep of the season. And when Texas coughed up a lead in the ninth at Kansas State later that night, Tech was assured of finishing fourth in the conference standings and being the fourth seed in this week’s Big 12 Championships at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
Not bad for a bunch picked to finish anywhere from seventh to ninth by the “experts.” Hey, I had them sixth, so I probably belong in that category as well.
If you’d told head coach Tim Tadlock in February that’s where his team would finish, he’d have signed up for it on the spot.
Funny thing is, as the season progressed, especially in the second half of Big 12 play where the Red Raiders were an impressive 9-3, expectations started growing. Fans began wondering.
Could Tech host a regional? Hasn’t happened since 1999.
Going into the Kansas series a couple weeks ago, the talk began to swell. Then Tech went to Lawrence, Kan. and got swept, and suddenly all that talk went away.
But after the WVU series, suddenly, what looked like a missed opportunity to host a regional suddenly is back on the table. It all depends on what the NCAA committee will consider in order of importance when deciding host sites this week.
Let’s see if we can help them out.
The case for
■ Top 16 RPI: By sweeping the Mountaineers, the Red Raiders are guaranteed to finish with no worse than the 16th RPI according to the needs report at www.boydsworld.com, considered an authority when it comes to NCAA baseball ratings. In fact, waking up Sunday morning, Tech’s RPI was No. 11 in the nation. That’s an important first step.
■ Eight wins vs. Top 25 RPI teams: That’s the third highest total of any team in the country. In fact, Tech has a winning record against the Top 50 and Top 100 RPI teams thanks to a very tough schedule and tremendous success against it.
■ 40 victories, wins in eight of its last 11 games and 16 of its 25: The NCAA committee often looks at which teams play the best toward the end of the season. Aside from a white-hot Kansas team, it’s hard to argue any team is playing better down the stretch than the Red Raiders.
■ An “aggressive” hosting bid: Going into the off week, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt promised Texas Tech’s bid to the NCAA will be very aggressive. So expect some of the guarantees the school makes to catch the eye of the committee.
■ Fourth place in the Big 12: It’s hard to describe just how huge Kansas State’s victory over Texas Saturday night helped Tech. Had the Longhorns swept, they would have finished tied with Tech for fourth and been the fourth seed in the Big 12 Tournament. And we all know that any host bid UT turns in trumps pretty much every one else in the nation in terms of guarantees. But with that loss, the Horns may have played themselves right out of a hosting bid. Texas has lost eight of its last 12 Big 12 games and had lost three straight series before pulling out an extra-inning win late Sunday at Kansas State in the series finale to win the series 2-1.
The case against
■ History: At least, recent history. It’s been 10 years since the Red Raiders were even in the regional picture, must less being talked about as a host. That means Texas Tech hasn’t been on the lips of the NCAA committee members in a long, long time, and they may be reluctant to give Tech a host based on one year.
■ Success in Texas: After being shut out of regional host sites last year, the state of Texas has come back with a vengeance. Most projections have both Rice and Houston hosting regionals, and TCU has gone from staying alive in the Big 12 race to being discussed as a national seed after winning 15 of their last 18 conference games. Even with it being a very down year for teams in California, it would be hard to award five host sites in Texas, with Tech and UT battling for the fourth one.
■ Struggles vs. top of Big 12: And that brings us to the head-to-head argument. Texas beat Tech two of three in Lubbock in March. That could certainly come into play. Tech is also just 4-9 against the other top four teams in the Big 12 (1-2 vs. OSU and UT, 2-2 vs. TCU, 0-3 vs. Kansas). The Big 12 hasn’t received more than two host sites since 2008.
■ Oklahoma State: It could also be difficult for the NCAA to give three host sites to the conference. TCU has certainly earned one. So has Oklahoma State. But the Cowboys are a quandary in terms of facilities and amenities, neither of which would match up to Tech in any way. I’m not sold on OSU hosting a regional because its RPI is outside the top 20, Allie P. Reynolds has not undergone major renovations since the Carter administration, and there aren’t that many hotels available in Stillwater. In fact, in 2006 and 2007, OSU finished in the top three in the league each year and was passed over for regionals while teams behind them were chosen to host.
So it all begs the question: How do the Red Raiders approach the Big 12 Championships, knowing they’re in the tournament but could earn a host bid with a strong performance?
Simple. Go play. That’s what this team has done all year, and it’s gotten them this far. Senior outfielder Adam Kirsch said it best on Saturday when he told the media this team plays at its peak when it’s relaxed, loose and under no pressure.
That, above all else, is how the Red Raiders go into Oklahoma City — loose, relaxed and confident.
And here’s the scary thing about it all. If Tech plays well enough at the Big 12 tournament to earn a host bid, the Red Raiders are a dominating 31-4 at home this season.
Then, this season could go a while.
2014 PHILLIPS 66 BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIPS
at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, Oklahoma City
Game 1: No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 6 West Virginia, 9 a.m.
Game 2: No. 2 TCU vs. No. 7 Baylor, 12:30 p.m.
Game 3: No. 1 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Oklahoma, 4 p.m.
Game 4: Texas Tech vs. Texas (seeds TBD), 7:30 p.m.
Game 5: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 9 a.m.
Game 6: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 12:30 p.m.
Game 7: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 8: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7:30 p.m.
Game 9: Game 7 loser vs. Game 5 winner, 3:15 p.m.
Game 10: Game 8 loser vs. Game 6 winner, 7:30 p.m.
Game 11: Game 9 winner vs. Game 7 winner, 9 a.m.
Game 12: Game 10 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 12:30 p.m.
Game 13: Game 7 winner vs. Game 11 winner, if necessary, 4 p.m.
Game 14: Game 8 winner vs. Game 12 winner, if necessary, 7:30 p.m.
Note: Game 13 becomes necessary if the winner of Game 9 wins Game 11; Game 14 becomes necessary if the winner of Game 10 wins Game 12. If Game 13 is unnecessary, Game 14 will be played at 4 p.m.
Divisional winners, 4:30 p.m.