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Watson: Red Raiders must refocus quickly to avoid OKC fate in NCAA tournament

This wasn't the first time this season the Texas Tech baseball team had lost two straight games.

Posted: May 25, 2014 - 10:22pm  |  Updated: May 25, 2014 - 11:59pm
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Texas Tech's coach Tim Tadlock speaks with his team while making a pitching change during their game on Thursday in Lubbock. (Zach Long)  Zach Long
Zach Long
Texas Tech's coach Tim Tadlock speaks with his team while making a pitching change during their game on Thursday in Lubbock. (Zach Long)
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This wasn’t the first time this season the Texas Tech baseball team had lost two straight games.

Five times this season, the Red Raiders have dropped back-to-back games. Only once did they lose more than two straight, and that was just three in a row.

But for Tech baseball fans — and I should know because I live with one — this two-game losing streak may be the most frustrating, simply because the expectations were high going to Oklahoma City for the Big 12 Championships. With 40 wins, a high RPI and the highest regular-season finish in league play since 2004, the Red Raiders went in looking to bolster their NCAA resume and possibly lock up a chance to host a regional.

(Which, by the way, don’t worry about getting into the tournament, Tech fans. It would be the mother of all shockers not to see Tech’s name on the board when the selections are announced Monday morning.)

Two games, and two losses, later, the Red Raiders were sent home, which in itself was delayed after the team bus broke down on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, forcing them to wait for a replacement bus that arrived around 9 p.m. Thursday night.

And, now, the Red Raiders wait some more. Gone are the hopes of hosting a regional, and the reality is Tech could get sent pretty far away from Lubbock.

Even going 0-2 in Oklahoma City is not unusual. Tech’s done that in four previous trips. If the trend holds, however, Tech should be OK for the first round of the regional.

However, there’s a different feel to this one.

Scuffling in OKC

Head coach Tim Tadlock uttered a phrase — twice — that I don’t recall him saying much, if at all, this season.

“We just didn’t play good baseball,” Tadlock said. Said it after the 8-3 loss to Texas. Said it after his bullpen blew a 7-1 lead and lost 9-8 to Oklahoma.

This team all season has prided itself on following its coach’s mantra, going out and “playing the game the right way.” For whatever reason, Tech didn’t do that in Oklahoma City.

For example — and not picking on you Tim — shortstop Tim Proudfoot had three errors in two games after going the entire regular season playing flawlessly in the field. For only the second time this season, the bullpen imploded in a game that the Red Raiders should have won, bringing back memories of the collapse at Oklahoma State in the series finale. Ironically, both times it cost starter Chris Sadberry a victory.

The whole week was very un-Red Raider-like in a lot of ways.

Was it the fact that Tech was not playing at home, where it is 31-4? Possibly. The Red Raiders are just 9-14 on the road this season, a trend that is going to have to change and change quickly if they are to keep playing this season.

Was it that they maybe were playing too loose? Could be. After all, that’s the line of questioning I asked them on Tuesday about playing loose knowing they could only help and not hurt their NCAA resume at the Big 12 tournament. Maybe it went too far the other direction.

Was the opening game tinged with some intimidation? Doubtful, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Texas Tech, in whatever sport right now, seems to have a mental block when it comes to competing against teams in burnt orange.

Getting refocused

Whatever ailed the Red Raiders at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, they better hope it stayed there.

Around 11 a.m. this morning, the Red Raiders will find out where the NCAA committee will send them. Projections throughout the season have placed them anywhere from Virginia to South Carolina to Mississippi to Houston to Vanderbilt. Gotta admit, being my last regional to cover for the Avalanche-Journal, wouldn’t mind going somewhere I haven’t been before.

No matter where it is, though, Tech needs to find the groove it had during mid- to late-April, when it won 12 of its last 14 games in the month.

The funny thing is, though, and I think this something a lot of the fans tend to forget, is that this program is about a year ahead of schedule according to most of the pundits.

Remember, this team was picked no better than seventh in any preseason poll, whether it was a publication or the Big 12 coaches poll. And to finish fourth with no take-charge Friday night ace, no true closer and a lot of offensive production from freshmen or first-year players, going 40-18 on the season is a tremendous accomplishment.

Tadlock said it best, however, during the break for finals, that the longer a team plays, and does so on television in the NCAA tournament, the more that helps not only land recruits, but convince players already signed who may have the option of going pro to come to school and put off an MLB career.

Knowing Tadlock, I’m sure there will be some focused practices between now and when the team leaves for ... wherever. I’m sure there will be a renewed mental focus as well. Seems to always happen after this team loses a couple.

That is the team that won 40 games, well ahead of schedule.

College baseball

What: NCAA Division I Selection Show

When: 11 a.m. Monday

TV: ESPNU (Suddenlink channel 503)

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