Keith Patrick Keith is the host of Dinger Derby: A Podcast for Texas Tech Baseball Fans. Keith is also a regular baseball and football contributor to Staking the Plains, the gritty two-star receiver of sports blogs. You can connect with Keith @dinger_derby or @KeithBPatrick on Twitter, and @ttu_dingerderby on Instagram. For Red Raider fans, the Dinger Derby Podcast can be found anywhere you listen to podcasts, posted on stakingtheplains.com, or at dingerderbypodcast.com.
The inaugural Round Rock Classic showcased college baseball perennial power Texas Tech, who has made it to the College World Series four times in six years, a dark horse SEC contender and 2019 Regional team in Tennessee, a 2019 Super Regional team in Stanford, and a postseason mainstay looking to bounce back in Houston. By including the Texas Tech Red Raiders, strong crowds were all but guaranteed by one of the most interested and well-traveled fan bases in not only college baseball, but intercollegiate athletics. The Red Raiders often claim stadiums, arenas, and ballparks as their own turning road games on their head, especially in Texas.
Over 8,000 fans crossed through the gates of Dell Diamond on Saturday alone to watch February college baseball, what a great time to be alive. The Round Rock Classic tweeted that it was a regional atmosphere in February. With the finale of the classic going to extra innings and ending with a walk-off, I think it’s safe to say it was a weekend of quality, early-season tournament action.
Houston Drops Stanford 11-4
In the offseason, the Houston Cougars were thought to be a potential favorite in The American. They’re looking to bounce back from a 32-24 season that disappointingly saw them miss out on the postseason, somewhere they’ve grown accustomed to being. In their opening weekend, the Cougars went 1-2 against Youngstown State at home losing Saturday and Sunday in extras. That kind of performance will set a fan base on the edge of the cliff even in a long-season sport like baseball.
The Cougars came into Round Rock needing a strong performance and they delivered Friday night against the Stanford Cardinal. Houston took down the smart kids 11-4 behind starting pitcher Lael Lockhart, Jr. who posted 4.1IP, 4H, 1R, 3BB, 4K. It was a pitcher’s duel walking into the bottom of the 4th tied 1-1 and then Lockhart’s teammates provided some run support as the Cougars reeled off 7 runs in the frame to go ahead for good. The Cougars batted around in the inning and took advantage of two Cardinal errors compounding the power of several base knocks.
Stanford rallied in the 8th closing the gap to 8-4 after loading the bases with no outs. They were able to push three across before the end of the frame. Houston however wasn’t satisfied, 1B Ryan Hernandez delivered a 3-run dinger dagger to extend the lead and deliver the final 11-4 score.
Cougar LF Blake Way went 2-2, 1R, and a career-high 3 RBI for the Cougars. Stanford starting pitcher Brendan Beck got roughed up going 3.2IP, 7H, 8R, 3ER, 0BB, 4K.
#1 Red Raiders Fall to Tennessee 6-2
Following a 4-0 start to the season at home scoring 65 runs over four games, the Texas Tech Red Raiders were unable to get things rolling Friday night against Volunteer pitching in a cold evening in Round Rock. Potential Top 10 MLB Draft pick Garrett Crochet has been coming back slowly from arm soreness and didn’t get the start against the College Baseball Nation’s top team, but the Vols didn’t seem to miss him much.
JUCO transfer Chad Dallas got the start for Tennessee and faced off with Clayton Beeter, the Red Raiders’ sophomore fireballer. Dallas struck out the side in the Red Raiders’ first chance at the plate and didn’t allow a hit until the third when Tech scratched across a run on an RBI knock by SS Cal Conley following a leadoff double by junior C Braxton Fullford.
The Volunteer offense started hot following a leadoff strikeout, DH Zach Daniels, who finished the evening going 2-4 with 2H, 2R, HR, RBI, hammered a hard-hit liner to shallow right field. Dru Baker missed the diving attempt and it was off to the races for Daniels. He held up at third but took off on a throw that went untouched by either cutoff man. It could certainly be argued it was a triple advanced by an error but it was officially scored an inside-the-park home run. RF Evan Russell worked a two-out walk and was brought home when Jordan Beck pounded a 2-run shot to left field and touched em all later in the first.
The Vols didn’t break out again but tacked on a run off a 3B Jake Rucker dinger in the third, another off an RBI double from SS Liam Spence scored CH Alerick Soulairie, and in the seventh, a Russell sac fly to center field scored Daniels following a leadoff double to left field for him.
Clayton Beeter entered this game with a 1.50 ERA after an opening day 5-1 win over Houston Baptist University but saw it swell to 4.60 in a tough evening. He went 4.0IP, 5H, 4R, 3BB, 8K, in 81 pitches. Senior right-hander John McMillon came in for two innings in relief and Kurt Wilson closed it out for the Red Raiders, both gave up one run apiece. Dallas and Sean Hunley combined to allow 6H, 2R, 4BB, 13K on their 5.0IP and 4.0IP respectively.
Red Raider freshman catcher Nate Rombach came back to earth after pounding 5 home runs over opening weekend and being named the D1Baseball and NCBWA Player of the Week, he went 0-3 with a walk and one RBI. Fulford was the only Red Raider to post multiple hits on the evening going 2-4 with a run scored.
Volunteers Stay Perfect with 8-4 Victory over Houston
Tennessee followed a cold-weather dismantling of the #1 ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders with a convincing come-from-behind victory over the Houston Cougars Saturday to improve to 5-0 on the season. The Vols started fast, plating three runs in the first inning, but everything ground to a halt for the next five innings as they put up goose eggs on the scoreboard. The Cougars struggled to get anything going as well with only two baserunners in three innings until 1B Ryan Hernandez worked a leadoff walk in the fourth and RF Steven Rivas pounded a two-run shot to left field to change the complexion of the game and close the deficit to one.
The Volunteers were lucky to escape the inning without further damage as SP Chase Wallace hit two batsmen and advanced runners with a balk and a wild pitch. Houston tied it up in the fifth inning on a Hernandez RBI double and took the lead 4-3 in the sixth on an unearned run scored after a throwing error from 2B Max Ferguson. The lead would be short-lived, however, as C Connor Pavolony smoked a two-out, 3 RBI double to left-center to take back the lead for good. Tennessee carried the 6-4 lead into the ninth and two insurance runs there solidified the win.
Wallace and Leath Jackson combined for 15 K on the day for the Vols and four Cougar pitchers combined for 11 K of their own. The Cougars fell to 2-3 on the season, continuing to struggle to put together consistent performances and perhaps more importantly, to close out games.
#1 Red Raiders Bounce Back with 7-2 Domination of Stanford
It was deja vu all over again for Bryce Bonnin who started for the Red Raiders on Saturday. Bonnin struck out the first batter he faced and then left a fastball up in the zone to give up a two-run home run after a walk. In Bonnin’s first start of the season on the back end of a doubleheader in Lubbock, he faced a similar situation, striking out the side, but giving up a home run in the inning.
Bonnin, who transferred to Texas Tech from Arkansas last season and was a key piece of the Red Raiders’ deep run in Omaha, finished the day with his second win of the season and 5.0IP, 4H, 2R, 1BB, 9K. Bonnin’s slider was working well for him in the mid-upper 80s and his fastball was consistently bumping 96mph. While the early fireworks from Cardinal SS Tim Tawa seemed like Bonnin may be on the ropes early, Stanford wasn’t able to scratch across another run the rest of the way.
Sophomore Micah Dallas, a 2019 Freshman All-American, turned in a strong relief outing firing a steady diet of sliders and changeups that kept batters guessing. He also sprinkled in some signature Dallas personality and fire on and off the mound. His 4.0IP, 2H, 0R, 0BB, 6K made for 15 combined strikeouts for Tech and Dallas’s second save of the season.
Offensively Stanford only smacked one extra-base hit outside of the homerun, a Brock Jones double to lead off the third. Jones stole third base and was the last Cardinal to pass second the rest of the way.
The Red Raiders effort started with a two-out solo bomb by 1B Cole Stilwell to left in the first that shrunk the Cardinal’s early lead to one. A one-out double by CF Dylan Neuse in the second put him in scoring position and the first of four wild pitches by Stanford pitchers moved Neuse to third. A sac fly by C Braxton Fulford scored the tying run. In the fourth, DH Nate Rombach worked a leadoff walk and moved into scoring position on another wild pitch, after a 2B Brian Klein groundout moved him to third, a throwing error by 3B Nick Bellafronto scored the freshman Rombach to take the lead.
Tech opened things up in the seventh with three runs scored by a 3B Jace Jung RBI triple, a Stilwell RBI single, and a Neuse RBI single. Cal Conley scored the final run for the Red Raiders in the eighth after blasting a leadoff double to right field he was moved around by a LF Dillon Carter sacrifice bunt, the fourth wild pitch of the day by Stanford pitchers brought Conley home.
Stanford starting southpaw Quin Mathews was charged with the loss from 4.0+IP, 3H, 3R, 2ER, 2BB, 2K.
Tennessee Completes Weekend Sweep with 7-2 Victory Over Stanford
The Volunteers took full advantage of five Stanford errors to take the weekend championship in Round Rock. The Cardinal is just playing flat out ugly baseball right now with a lot of youngsters making bad mistakes. Many teams look back on a successful season at a low point that was a lesson-learned turning point, maybe this weekend will become that for Stanford.
Tennessee jumped out to an early 2-1 lead in the second on an RBI triple by Luc Lipcius and a sac fly by Liam Spence. Stanford tied it up in the fifth but it was Tennessee the rest of the way scratching across one in the sixth, three in the seventh, and one in the eighth. All of those runs were aided by errors, another testament to the Cardinal and their struggles.
The miscues made the day all the more frustrating for Stanford’s starting pitcher who went 5.2IP, 3H, 3R, 0ER, 2BB, 10K in 105 pitches on the day. Nothing will wear a pitcher out faster than his defense not having his back. The high score was less helped by hitting than miscues as only two Vols notched a multi-hit day. 3B Austin Kretzschmar went 3-4, 1 2B, and LF Cole Hinkelman went 2-4, 1R, 2 2B.
#1 Red Raiders Walk It Off in Extra Innings
Texas Tech found themselves in a dogfight Sunday night against the Houston Cougars. CF Tyler Bielamowicz reached on a leadoff HBP, stole second, and moved to third on a passed ball. An RBI groundout scored him giving the Cougars the early lead. Sophomore Dru Baker led things off for Tech with a solo homerun in the Red Raiders’ first at-bat of the game to tie it. Both teams would post goose eggs the next two innings and in the fourth Houston capitalized on SP Austin Becker’s third base on balls of the game with an RBI double by SS Kobe Hyland. Tech answered in the fifth when LF Tanner O’Tremba’s RBI groundout scored Dylan Neuse who led off the inning with a standup triple, his first of the season after posting eight three-baggers in 2019.
The next four innings were scoreless but not without drama as the Cougars stranded four on base and the Red Raiders left six aboard. Tech put runners on third twice with the score tied 2-2, including a bases loaded effort in the sixth, but couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities. The Red Raiders hit .222 with runners in scoring position on the evening, something Head Coach Tim Tadlock will surely look to see improve as the season rolls on.
The game went to the tenth and RHP Andrew Devine came in for the Red Raiders. The Freshman from Simi Valley, CA was impressive in his second appearance of the season striking out his first two batters and fielding a swinging bunt himself for the 1-3 putout. Baker, who found base every at bat of the evening with a homerun, and back-to-back-to-back walks, led off for Tech in the tenth with a single to left field. He then swiped second with two outs and Houston completed junior catcher Braxton Fulford’s at-bat with an intentional walk. That’s when the senior 2B Brian Klein stepped up to bat.
The senior leader, earlier named to the Golden Spikes Award Watch List, walked into high drama in this early season tournament matchup. Klein was 0-12 on the weekend and only reached base once on a fielder’s choice in Friday night’s loss to Tennessee. The intentional walk to bring up an ice cold Klein was understandable, but the faith and approach of Red Raider leader served him well as he smoked a first-pitch RBI single to right field scoring Baker from second base and walking off the game over the Cougars 3-2.
Other notables on the evening were SP Austin Becker, LHP Jakob Brustoski, and RHP Ryan Sublette who all threw absolute gas and became the third, fourth, and fifth Red Raiders to throw at least 96mph in the Classic. Dobbins also hit 94 and Devine 95, the Red Raiders certainly have no shortage of power pitching available. Those bullpen arms were exceptional, after starter and Vanderbilt transfer Becker battled through 4.0IP, 3H, 2R, 3BB, 2K. Red Raider relievers combined for 6.0IP, 3H, 0R, 1BB, 12K the rest of the way.
The Red Raiders finish the inaugural Round Rock Classic 2-1 and improve to 6-1 on the season. Houston falls to 2-4 on the young season but played an impressive Texas Tech team very well, the early fears about their chances in the AAC may be misplaced, although the ability to close out close games appears to be a lingering issue.