HOUSTON — Texas Tech didn’t need much Sunday to snap its first losing streak of the season.
All the No. 26 Red Raiders had to do was see some pitches.
Rice starter Jon Duplantier walked five Tech batters in the third inning to plate two runs, and the Red Raiders’ weary bullpen held on for a 2-1 victory in the final day of the College Classic at Minute Maid Park.
Tech only managed two hits, but the walks were enough to secure a 2-2 split in a four-game trip to east Texas. The Red Raiders also beat Stephen F. Austin, 5-4, on Thursday night in Nacogdoches.
The pitching came through after rough outings against Sam Houston State and Houston. Those teams combined for 19 runs, using two big innings to sink Tech’s chances in losses on the first two days of the All-Texas Classic.
Red Raiders starter Chris Sadberry made sure No. 10 Rice would have no such luck, and he did it with a bum throwing hand.
Sadberry took a line drive off his left hand during last Sunday’s start vs. Oral Roberts. A grotesque bruise was still visible, but Sadberry said he was mostly unbothered by the injury.
“I got the laces still there, healing up,” he said, pointing to the hand. “The training staff did a great job getting me ready, and I was fortunate not to have any broken bones.”
He showed no ill effects, limiting the Owls to no earned runs and five hits over seven innings. Sadberry is now 2-0 on the season with a 1.76 ERA.
A fielding and throwing error on the same play by shortstop Ryan Long enabled Skyler Ewing to score on John Clay Reeves’s single.
“We just make a play or two and (Sadberry) would have a shutout,” said Tech coach Tim Tadlock. “He’s a kid that no matter what happens, he’s going to prepare for the next start the right way. Never too high or low. That’s what you want out of any player.”
But Sadberry was the less touted pitcher entering the contest. Duplantier, a Katy product, is a highly-rated freshman hurler who already had nine strikeouts in his first eight innings of work.
He posted two more against the Red Raiders in the first two innings but found trouble in the third. Five Tech batters in six plate appearances drew free passes, scoring two runs and ousting Duplantier.
“I have faith in our offense, and they’ll come around, always finding ways to get it done,” Sadberry said. “We were fortunate enough to have (Duplantier) walk some runs in.”
A fourth-inning double play and a couple nifty catches by rightfielder Stephen Smith maintained Tech’s two-run advantage even with the Owls hitting balls hard.
The contact was part of Sadberry’s gameplan, as he commanded a sinker and a breaking ball well but wasn’t overpowering the Rice lineup despite hitting 90 miles per hour in his final inning.
“I wanted to let our guys on defense go and get after it, so I had to challenge them a little bit,” the lefty said.
Things got tense in the eighth, as reliever Jonny Drozd surrendered consecutive two-hits to put the go-ahead run on base.
But on a rainy afternoon outside that forced the Minute Maid roof closed, the Red Raider bullpen’s recent dreary performance brightened considerably. Freshman Ryan Moseley played the role of closer, slamming the door on the Owls with a strikeout and a perfect ninth inning for his second career save.
“He was tossing some bowling balls up there,” Tadlock said of Moseley’s fastballs. “That’s what we call his stuff. It’s just powerful.”
The win was Tech’s first against Rice since 1996, and the first in eight tries versus the Owls at Minute Maid in their hometown event.
More importantly, the Red Raiders have another signature non-conference pelt as they return home for six games before Big 12 play begins.
Even with the historic win, Tadlock wasn’t about to start declaring Tech baseball a finished product.
“(Rice is) just another program, but Coach (Wayne) Graham has done a great job,” Tadlock said. “He’s a legend. As far as what it means, a win is exactly that. They all count the same.”
“Some days, I think (we’ve improved) quite a bit. We’re getting there. It’s 12 games in. We’re not jinxing anything yet.”