Texas Tech’s season came to an end in Gainesville on Monday afternoon, after a brutal showing from the bats in their last couple of days. In their last two games against Florida, Texas Tech was held to just a .174 batting average, and .206 slugging percentage. It was an uncharacteristically bad couple of days at the plate, and Tadlock also came under some criticism for his management of the game on Sunday. Coming into this Regional as underdogs, and without Trendan Parish due to injury, Tadlock was forced into some tough decisions.
Before The Regional
After Hampton, Birdsell, and Morris were drafted, Tech lost all three starters from last season. However they felt good about the guys they brought in to replace them, but that hadn’t gone to plan. Kyle Robinson got the nod in the season opener but gave up four runs in two innings, and would only make his fourth start of the season in the Big 12 Tournament. A five-scoreless inning performance had all of a sudden catapulted Robinson into a starter’s role for this past weekend. The man who replaced Robinson in the opener, Brendan Girton, went six scoreless, earning the win and the Friday starters role for a good chunk of the season. However, he regressed and moved back to the bullpen, where after a great outing in Norman he also couldn’t find his footing. For the Regional you have to whittle down your roster from 40 to 27, Tadlock made one of his biggest roster calls by leaving Girton off.
In the second game of the season Mason Molina pitched, and despite midseason struggles has become the ace of this team. Bo Blessie started game three and looked good but due to injuries he’s been reduced to a bullpen role for the past month. Tadlock made another big call here, leaving Blessie off the plane to Gainesville. The last and possibly least surprising decision Tadlock has made comes from another guy who pitched in that third game, Junior Andrew Devine. Despite having good performances for Tech in the past, and being experienced in the Tournament, he compiled a 7.13 ERA this season and had also been left in Lubbock.
Injuries not only reared their head in Bo Bessie’s situation either, in the final series of the year Trendan Parish, the only consistent starter with Molina, but also went down and is out for the Regional. In the field, Owen Washburn picked up an injury and is also out, as did his brother and pitcher Jack. Before the season even started Tech also lost a pair of infielders who were likely to start in Jake Dukart, and Travis Sanders. In all Tech was left with four outfielders in Hester, Harrelson, Carter, and Vooletich, and two catchers in White and Maxcey. Infield seemed set with Kash, Green, Lopez, and Bazzell, with options such as Coleman, Woodcox, and Burns.
The Two Wins
Who should start game one was a debated point, and one I actually disagreed with, but Tadlock tapped Molina for game one. Molina didn’t disappoint going six innings with 10 strikeouts and surrendering just two earned runs. With the game on the line, and a 3-0 lead with two on Tadlock went all in by throwing Brandon Beckel. Beckel was great getting through two innings without surrendering a run, though both already scored. For the final three outs, Tadlock gave it to Josh Sanders, it was undoubtedly the right move as he got all three outs stress-free.
On Saturday night in Tech’s most difficult test, Tadlock gave the ball to Kyle Robinson as expected. He was brilliant as he gave up just one until the sixth where he was pulled after a walk, and his replacement, Ryan Free gave up a two-run homer immediately after. Free did rebound as he sent the game to the eighth, where Coombes would get through it clean, and Kash would hit a massive two-run shot. While Tadlock tried to give the ball to Bridges, the Gators put a man on third, and Tadlock had to go to Beckel again. It was a big decision again as Beckel rarely pitches the day after throwing two innings. It worked, as Beckel got the final two outs including the final one off Florida star Caglianone.
There were a couple of big lineup decisions as well, as Will Burns got the start over Tracer Lopez at shortstop. This was a shock but made more sense after it was revealed that Lopez was banged up and Burns was the obvious choice to replace him. Another crucial decision was starting Gage Harrelson in center field over Dillon Carter who had been struggling at the plate. Tadlock likes to rotate catchers and went with Maxcey in game two with White sliding over to DH, and Vooletich to Right Field. Harrelson responded by making key catches all night on Saturday and going 2 for 5 at the plate. We’ll come back to that decision.
The Two Losses
With Molina and Robinson burnt, Freshman Zane Petty became the obvious choice to start. Thrust into a massive night game with a chance to go to the Supers and eliminate the number two team in the nation, Petty was sensational. He may not have had his best stuff, forcing fewer swings and misses than normal, but he threw strikes and trusted his defense. Through five he rose to the moment, holding the Gators scoreless, the guy that typically comes undone and gets nailed his second time through the lineup, made it through one of the most talented lineups in the nation twice, surrendering nothing.
Heading into the sixth every move Tadlock made had worked, and Tech was four innings and a run from heading back to the Supers. Then it came unraveled, Green couldn’t make a great play on a chopper and the Gators had a man aboard. It seemed like a deep fly to center would quell the Gator fans, but Gage Harrelson lost a ball, and there were runners on second and third. The cameras immediately panned to Dillon Carter on the bench, then Tadlock pulled Petty for Jase Lopez, who had pitched just a third of an inning in over a month. Lopez got an insane double play, and suddenly Tech was just an out away from escaping at 0-0. However a single would score a run, and an error from Bazzell would give Florida a two-run lead before they tacked on two more. The rest of the game was quieter before Tech pitched Bravo in the ninth and he surrendered three, putting the game out of reach. This led to some legitimate questions of Tadlock.
Should Tech have started Carter in Center Field? This is a tough one, Carter is a heck of a defender, but since his latest injury, he’s been a liability at the plate. In the opener, he came up to bat in a couple of key situations and swung at some really bad pitches. It’s easy to wonder “what if” with Harrelson, but the kid did make a massive play Saturday night. I’d have started Harrelson, especially with a struggling offense. I actually put this to a Twitter poll about an hour before the game Monday, it was 52/48 Carter, after 134 votes. Gage went from being one of the heroes of a massive win to the goat in just over 24 hours. Baseball is a cruel sport but he has a great future.
Should Tech Have Pulled Petty? I’m a hard yes here, it’s a miracle this kid went through Florida’s lineup twice and allowed nothing. Petty is going to be a heck of a pitcher and took a massive step forward Sunday, but he’s not a guy I trust to go six or seven yet. I advocated on the Texas Tech podcast for Petty to start Friday, and be an opener option for a potential Monday game, assuming he’d go three, or four innings max on Friday. Tech has a gem in Petty, but he’s a guy that tends to have things blow up quickly, plus if Bazzell makes that throw, we’re not even talking about this.
Should Tech Have Thrown Jase Lopez? No. I wanted to see Lopez make the 27 for regionals, but I expected him to go in game four or five, not in game three. It nearly worked, and we were one throw from calling this a great decision, but it didn’t work. Lopez also looked out of control and just didn’t have it. I’m not saying throw Beckel, because then he’d be done for Monday. But Bridges, Coombes, Fast, and Sanders were all in the pen and could’ve pitched both days. This is the one Tadlock decision I don’t get, and again we were one throw from calling Tadlock a genius. Also, I want to give Bazzell a pass, he’s a redshirt Freshman, and Tadlock looks at him as a catcher first. He was forced to third after the Travis Sanders injury before the season, while he had some rough errors this year, he also had some gems and was a lethal batter. I’m slow to criticize 19-year-olds who get less than a full scholarship by the way.
Should Tech have thrown Bravo in the Ninth down 4-1? Yes. This one’s easy, the offense was anemic, and Tadlock made the bet that Monday was their best chance at this point, until then Tech was playing for Sunday. Bravo did well to finish the inning in a brutal spot, it saved arms for the series decider. Tech entered Monday with Beckel, Free, Fast, Bridges, Coombes, Erdman, and Sanders all available to follow a Rogers start. They should’ve had the advantage, but the anemic offense also showed up on Monday.
Should the Pitching Coach Be Fired? So lately, well not even lately, the pitching coach has caught flack. Much of this flack is fair by the way, Gardner deserves criticism, but should he be fired? Look, I don’t blame people for wanting a change here, but I will point out Beckel had a 15+ ERA his Freshman year and was a stud this year. Molina found his groove, Petty developed from one time through the lineup, to staring down an elite lineup and going five scoreless. Parish battled, and both Robinson and Rogers came from nowhere to throw a very good game. First, if you want him gone I doubt it happens, and I especially doubt it happens after this Regional. This staff has been together, they have continuity, even Gute took the ejection to save Bazzell. I doubt there’s a change, ask me a few weeks ago, maybe I say there should be.
Tech Gets Sent Home
Jacob Rogers got the ball on Monday, and he did well allowing just a solo shot in the third. Again there were questions on why he was pulled after three, here’s why. Rogers had gone over three innings just once this season, a run-rule loss in Norman, where he gave up four in four innings, and looked shaky to start the Fifth. He had gone three just twice, his latest was against ACU, before that, he had rarely played. Credit to the kid for giving three innings of his best stuff, but he wasn’t capable of much more, Tech has yet another exciting potential starter for the next couple of years. Add into that it was Josh Sanders who replaced him, Sanders was superb both Friday and last year in Statesboro.
In the end, Tadlock rightfully will get some flack for Tech going out in the Regionals again, but he took a young squad to four innings from upsetting one of the Tournament favorites. Plus, as I’ll write later this week, he’ll be licking his chops at what he has for 2024. After all Tech fans went from feeling good about one or two starting options to four or five for next season. As someone who follows Tech baseball closely, it’s been a very stressful and fun 2023. I can’t wait for 2024, with 13 teams in the mix, just please give me a schedule soon.