It seems impossible for a visiting team to win a series in Lubbock.
TCU found that out this past weekend, as Texas Tech rebounded from a 7-3 game one loss, to win the next two games, and a critical Big 12 series.
The Red Raiders’ series win changed the landscape of the Big 12 standings. TCU, who entered the three-game set 6-0 in conference action, fell to 7-2, as Texas Tech pulled itself right back into the conference title conversation. Texas remains atop the standings with a 10-2 Big 12 record, with TCU second, but Texas Tech is right on their heels in fourth with a 5-4 Big 12 record.
The series victory was much-needed for Texas Tech head coach Tim Tadlock’s team, who had been upset by unranked Kansas State the previous weekend.
“There’s a lot you can talk about,” Tadlock said in a postgame press conference when asked about the importance of the series win, “RPI, hosting. It’s way too early to even go there, but that is what the big picture is. You win series, put yourself in a position to win the league . . .
“The simple answer is, it’s better to win two out of three than lose two out of three. But there’s long-term things that [winning a series like this] is going to help you [with].”
There were two constants throughout the two victories for the Red Raiders: scoring first and making good use of the depth in the bullpen.
But at the same time, there was very little similarity when the three contests are compared. Game one featured a TCU victory, game two saw Texas Tech rally from an early two-run deficit and the series finale was focused on the bats.
In the series opener, TCU made a statement, scoring six first-inning runs that sapped much of Texas Tech’s momentum before the Red Raiders even stepped to the plate.
The huge first inning was punctuated on a two-run home run to right center field off the bat of TCU’s Phillip Sikes, who entered the series hitting .340. Sikes showed tremendous poise after Texas Tech starter Micah Dallas registered strikes on the first two pitches of the at-bat, and with a 1-2 count, proceeded to foul off three straight pitches. He then took a ball and swatted the homer off the following pitch.
Another example of TCU’s well-prepared approach came in the previous at-bat as Gray Rodgers faced a 2-2 count but did not shorten up and laced a triple down the right field line, scoring two.
Texas Tech failed to overcome the first-inning outburst, as TCU starter Russell Smith moved to 6-1 and held the Red Raiders scoreless for the first three innings of play. He struck out the first two batters he faced, and tallied 12 strikeouts in total in the seven-inning outing.
Game two was a slightly different story, though perhaps the most competitive game of the series, as Texas Tech rallied and won 6-5 in 10 innings to even the series at 1-1.
The Red Raiders, reeling from their second home loss of the season, struck first, and went up 1-0 in the first inning on a RBI groundout from Braxton Fulford.
It did not take long for TCU to issue a response, as Hunter Wolfe connected on the first pitch of the at-bat and drove it well over the left-field wall for a momentum-shifting grand slam. The Horned Frogs took a 4-1 lead, and it seemed that TCU had its sights set on the series victory.
Texas Tech stepped to the plate in the bottom of the frame ready to counter, and did so by sending nine batters to the plate. With two outs and the bases loaded, Jace Jung, the Red Raiders’ top hitter statistically, faced TCU reliever Charles King, and worked the count to 2-2 before driving a single up the middle that scored two, and put Texas Tech in front 5-4.
TCU tied the score at five in the top of the sixth, which sent the contest into extra innings, and put the pressure on. TCU was aiming for a critical series victory, while Texas Tech was trying to keep its hopes of securing the series win alive.
With the home crowd on its feet, Cal Conley, Texas Tech’s first batter in the 10th, swatted a solo home run to left field, ending the game.
In game three, Conley’s walk-off may have crept into the minds of TCU’s hurlers, who gave up runs in every inning except the fifth. The contest went just seven innings, as Texas Tech led 17-7 and a run-rule was invoked.
Jung began things on the right foot for Texas Tech in a contest that the Red Raiders dominated from start to finish, hitting the first of his three home runs on the day.
“Feels awesome, you just have to stay humble, and keep working everyday, and keep trying to do the same thing everyday to help the team win,” Jung told the media on Sunday.
Though Jung’s power took center stage in the series finale, Tadlock also took time to note the consistency of his eight, nine, one and two hitters.
“[Jung’s] hitting third, so I think you’d have to go down there to some of those guys at the bottom of the order,” Tadlock said. “Dylan Carter, Parker Kelly, Easton Murrell, Braxton Fulford. Braxton had really good at-bats the whole weekend there in the two hole, really tough out. Baseball is one of those games that sometimes a guy that might get out sets it up for the other guy. There’s definitely some of that going on.”
One low point for Texas Tech was an injury sustained to regular Friday night starter Brandon Birdsell that forced Birdsell to throw just 2.2 innings in a start on Sunday. Tadlock had little to say about Birdsell’s status or his future in the postgame press conference on Sunday. Tadlock did note that Birdsell first felt an issue in his shoulder in his start at Kansas State.
“It’s a shoulder, that’s all I can go into,” Tadlock said. “You can figure out why he didn’t pitch on Friday. He needed a couple extra days, and I thought he was really in a good spot, but it reared its head, so we’ll give him some time to get better.”
Though beaten by 10, TCU did extend its streak of games with a home run to seven, after pinch hitter Austin Henry hit a two-run homer to center field for TCU’s seventh run of the contest.
Texas Tech now sets its sights on a two-game home series against Stephen F. Austin before continuing Big 12 play at West Virginia next weekend.
TCU will play Tarleton State on Tuesday in Stephenville, Texas, before hosting Oklahoma State next weekend.