After making appearances at the College World Series in two of the last three seasons, a new-look Texas Tech baseball team takes the field in Mississippi this weekend hoping to grab a few wins before returning home for Opening Day.
The Red Raiders will be tested early with a doubleheader on Friday, starting with a 1 p.m. game against Western Illinois and the big matchup against reigning SEC champion Mississippi State at 4 p.m.
With several of the team’s key players from last year graduated or playing professionally, this year’s squad is younger and less-experienced, but still riddled with talent. The starting pitching rotation is one of the strongest in the Big 12, and the position players are more than capable of propelling this team to a conference title run off the strength of their bats.
That said, the Red Raiders will need some time to work out their identity and gel together as a group. It’s highly unlikely they’ll leave Starkville with a 4-0 record, even with the two mismatches against Western Illinois. Mississippi State is a legitimate threat in the SEC, the country’s best baseball conference, and will come ready to play this weekend.
Sophomore RHP Davis Martin is expected to be the opening day starter, but it’s unclear as to whether coach Tim Tadlock will use him in the first game of the afternoon against Western Illinois or save him for the matchup against Mississippi State later Friday evening. Martin is one of the top pitchers in the country and is hoping to build off an impressive 10-1 record compiled in his freshman year.
The other player likely to start one of the two Friday games is Steven Gingery, the lefty sophomore from California. Gingery went 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA in Big 12 play a season ago, relying on his off-speed pitch that Martin calls the nastiest change-up he’s ever seen.
Rounding out the rotation is likely sophomore RHP Ryan Shetter, although we may see appearances this weekend from sophomore LHP Erikson Lanning or freshman RHP John Henry Gonzalez. Tadlock is sure to make multiple adjustments to the rotation during the course of the season as he’s done in the past, so it’s tough to project some of the Sunday and midweek starters with any real consistency.
At the plate, the Red Raiders have a strong presence in the middle of the order with Orlando Garcia, Tanner Gardner and Hunter Hargrove. Gardner, the junior center fielder from Frisco, had the second-highest batting average in the Big 12 Conference last year and will likely get out to a hot start against the weaker pitching staff of Western Illinois.
Tech will face one of the top pitchers in the country Friday night when Konnor Pilkington takes the mound. The right-handed pitcher was named the No. 6 sophomore in the nation by Perfect Game, and the No. 2 prospect in the 2018 draft out of the SEC by D1 Baseball. If Tadlock starts Martin in that game, expect a very low-scoring affair.
The Red Raiders will learn quite a bit about what kind of team they are and how much potential they have when this weekend wraps up. The two games against Western Illinois should be locks, but that’s contingent on Tech not overlooking their first game in anticipation for the matchup against Mississippi State.
It’s reasonable to expect a sweep of Western Illinois and a series split against Mississippi State. Tech is too talented to drop a game against Western Illinois. However, Mississippi State matches up pretty evenly with Tech, so those games will likely be decided by the more disciplined, focused team. I’ll give the Red Raiders the benefit of the doubt and project a 3-1 record for the team before they head back to Lubbock next week.
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