Stephen Smith grinned as he tried to look past the obvious.
Nine years ago Smith was in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Then 12 years old, Smith took the mound for the Lubbock Western All-Stars in the championship game of the Little League World Series in front of 24,200 fans.
In 2014 he was older, bigger and stronger as a freshman starter in the outfield when Texas Tech made its first appearance at the College World Series.
Three times this postseason Texas Tech faced elimination. All three times, the Red Raiders responded.
On June 6, after falling to Dallas Baptist 10-6 the day before in the Lubbock Regional, Tech got strong pitching in a 5-3 victory against the Patriots to advance to the super regional round.
In last weekend’s best-of-three super regional, Tech rallied from an 8-6 Game 1 loss against East Carolina to win Saturday’s game 3-1 in 13 innings and Sunday’s series finale 11-0.
Texas Tech will take on TCU at 2 p.m. Sunday in a College World Series opener.
The pairings and game times for the first two days of the CWS were announced Monday.
Texas Tech (47-18) and TCU (47-16) each won their best-of-three super regional series to make the eight-team field in Omaha, Nebraska.
At Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock’s introductory press conference, he said there was a man who once told him that you couldn't get to Omaha from Lubbock.
That man, who Tadlock said he never talks to anymore, was wrong.
“But it's a baseball game. You get good baseball players, you can win games wherever you are,” Tadlock said after the Red Raiders clinched their second College World Series berth in three years by defeating East Carolina 11-0 at Rip Griffin Park on Sunday.
"This group of freshmen pitchers ... could anchor our staff through 2018. This is a special group for our program. There are guys up and down this class that have won a bunch of baseball games on the state and national level who will keep our program on the path to Omaha.” —Tim Tadlock on Texas Tech’s signing class, Nov. 18, 2014
A few months after Texas Tech made its first appearance in Omaha, the ground work was laid for its second trip.
This season was different.
In 2014, the Red Raiders upset Miami on the road and was able to host a super regional as the higher seed against the College of Charleston before advancing to the College World Series for the first time in program history.
This year, a trip to Omaha was expected.
And it’s happening as No. 5 Texas Tech shut out East Carolina 11-0.
Texas Tech did exactly what it needed to in a close game — play great defense.
In the first five innings alone the Red Raiders turned three double plays. They added another in the seventh and the defensive prowess kept the pitching duel ongoing into the 13th inning Saturday in the NCAA Lubbock super regional at Rip Griffin Park.
Tech eventually prevailed, 3-1, and it needed every out.
The bus left the station at 3 p.m.
It wasn’t going to arrive in Lubbock until 9 a.m. the next day.
Eric Gutierrez sat at the front of the bus, cramped into his tiny seat, trying to survive the 18-hour journey. He looked to the front of the bus a few times, terrified the driver was falling asleep.
When Tim Tadlock came to the postgame press conference, he didn’t know more of his players had been drafted.
While Texas Tech battled East Carolina through 13 innings over almost five hours, seven more Red Raiders were selected in the 2016 MLB draft on Saturday.
Ten total current Texas Tech players drafted which is a school record.
When he heard the news, the Texas Tech coach got emotional.