CORAL GABLES, Fla. — The Texas Tech baseball team needed one more quality start, and its best available pitcher was questionable at best.
Left-hander Cameron Smith, a valuable member of the Tech pitching staff all season with his hard-to-hit breaking pitches, had been on the shelf throughout the Coral Gables Regional after feeling some discomfort in his arm on Friday.
But with Tech facing elimination after dropping a one-run decision in a game resumed Monday afternoon after it was suspended late Sunday night due to rain, the junior convinced head coach Tim Tadlock he was good to go.
Was he ever.
Sore arm and all, Smith gave a carer performance, tossing a complete-game, three-hit shutout of the Hurricanes, and Zach Davis’ two-run single in the top of the ninth gave him two big insurance runs as the 23rd-ranked Red Raiders beat No. 3 Miami, 4-0, to earn the program’s first Super Regional berth.
“It’s just really special when a kid tells you to trust him, (you) say, ‘Here’s the ball.’ It’s pretty neat,” an emotional Tadlock said after the game. “It’s just a baseball game but at the same time you put a lot of trust in these kids, and they got it done.”
Smith, who is now 8-2 on the year with a 2.86 ERA, lobbied Tadlock between the end of a 2-1 loss and the beginning of the winner-take-all Game 7 to give him the ball. Part of it was for redemption from the three runs he allowed in a 9-8 loss to Oklahoma that knocked the Red Raiders (43-19) out of the Big 12 Championships.
Part of it was also the moxie he has shown throughout the season. Far from the hardest thrower on the team, Smith followed a string of stellar outings by starters Chris Sadberry, Dylan Dusek and Ryan Moseley by giving Tech a career performance.
Dusek, Moseley and Smith combined for 23 shutout innings in the regional, all against the No. 1 seed Hurricanes.
“I just tried to go and prove myself from what my last outing was,” said Smith, who walked five while striking out three. “I had to put my team first and had the guys behind me. I was just trying to do my job to keep us in the game.
“Actually in the middle innings (the arm) started loosening up a bit. I was just trying to hit my spots and, like I said, put the ball in play and let my defense work behind me.”
That it did. Miami (44-19) never got a runner past first base until the seventh inning, and even then, after a visit to the mound by Tadlock, Smith enticed Alex Hernandez into an inning-ending double play.
From there, Smith retired six of the final seven he faced and squashed what little momentum Miami had left. He ended the game by getting Johnny Ruiz to ground out to first, setting off a wild celebration on the infield.
“We probably don’t need to play him in golf, because he’s a pretty good sandbagger,” Tadlock said. “He might be that guy that’ll take your money.”
He certainly took Miami’s hopes of reaching its first Super Regional since 2010, hopes that had skyrocketed after the Hurricanes rallied from a 1-0 deficit to take a 2-1 win in a game that was suspended late Sunday night due to rain.
That win seemed to give the Hurricanes all the momentum they needed to finish out the regional on their home field.
“Very confident,” Miami senior outfielder Dale Carey said. “We talked about it yesterday ... to win the first one and the second one is our game. The second game we’re the home team on our home field. We were very confident going into that game. Credit (Tech), they did a better job than us today.”
It took a while, though.
Miami starter Derik Beauprez matched Smith pitch for pitch over the first four innings, holding the Red Raiders to a hit and two walks with two strikeouts. Submarine-style right-hander Cooper Hammond followed with two more innings of shutout ball before a huge error gave Tech the break it needed.
Hammond hit Ryan Long to start the seventh, then Tim Proudfoot singled to shallow center. Devon Conley laid down a bunt toward third base, but catcher Garrett Kennedy’s throw went wide and high down the first-base line. Long scored the first run of the game while Proudfoot moved to third and Conley took second.
After a Hunter Redman strikeout, pinch-hitter Alec Humphreys lifted a fly to left deep enough to score Proudfoot, and suddenly Tech had what seemed like a huge 2-0 lead.
“It definitely helps having a run on the board,” Conley said. “It gave Cam some breathing room and he just pitched the same, let us work behind him. It was a real confidence booster and was really good to finally get some runs in.”
Just to be sure, however, the Red Raiders tacked on two big insurance runs in the ninth. Leadoff singles by Proudfoot and Conley and a sacrifice bunt by Hunter Redman set up Davis, who replaced Humphreys in the seventh inning. Davis fought off a pair of two-strike pitches before lifting his two-run single to shallow left-center to push the lead to 4-0.
Smith then slammed the door shut in the ninth, and the Red Raiders are now two victories away from the College World Series.
“We don’t need to start counting our money at the table,” Tadlock said. “We’ve got a game (this) weekend, and we’re going to stay grounded. We just need to keep playing baseball.”
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NCAA BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
(double elimination; x-if necessary)
At A-Rod Park at Mark Light Field
Coral Gables, Fla.
Game 1: Texas Tech 3, Columbia 2
Game 2: Miami 1, Bethune-Cookman 0
Game 3: Bethune-Cookman 6, Columbia 4; Columbia eliminated
Game 4: Texas Tech 3, Miami 0
Game 5: Miami 10, Bethune-Cookman 0; Bethune-Cookman eliminated
Game 6: Miami 2, Texas Tech 1
x-Game 7: Texas Tech 4, Miami 0; Texas Tech clinches Super Regional