Hello and welcome to the final edition of the first of what is hopefully many seasons of First Pitch! Today, we’re diving into the season as a whole and looking at what made the Red Raiders so successful on their way to Omaha. We’ll also discuss how this year could translate to higher expectations for the program in future years. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
We can’t state how important Tech coach Tim Tadlock was to this team’s success. After the Big 12 tournament, it appeared as though this team had yet to find an identity or a solid rotation. This team was looking the worst it had all season long and some fans thought that it would surely crumble when it came to postseason play. The Red Raiders proved a ton of folks wrong and a lot of that credit goes to the man in charge, Tim Tadlock. He got his team focused at the right time, and that went a long way as Tech only lost one game on its way to its third Omaha appearance in five years. Tadlock has been the best hire this university has made and I hope that he is here for years to come.
Zach Rheams had a breakout season in 2018. The senior designated hitter was expected to be used sparingly as a pinch hitter as was more seen as a power hitter but not a great overall hitter. That changed this year as he came on strong in Big 12 play and solidified himself in the heart of the lineup, batting fifth most of the year. His season totals included a .341 average, 17 home runs to lead the team and 55 RBI.
Going...— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 9, 2018
Zach Rheams cranks a DEEP to tie it up!
THIS IS A BATTLE FOLKS get to ESPNU
Bot 7th | Duke 4 | TX Tech 4 pic.twitter.com/KsKEFTO2cN
I honestly also didn’t expect freshman Gabe Holt to have such a huge impact this season. He has been the solid leadoff hitter that every team needs and I am looking forward to seeing him at the top of the lineup next season as well as playing some good defense no matter what position he is in. He was a demon on the basepaths as he went 29-30 on the season in stolen bases. Imagine if he gets faster over the summer. Watch out, he along with incoming speedster Max Marusak could make a dynamic speed duo as either the 1-2 hitters or the 9-1 hitters. I honestly see Holt as the team’s shortstop next year, as with the graduation of Michael Davis, this team will be looking for someone to fill that spot.
Back of the Bullpen
This team had a ton of ups and downs but one thing I could always count on game in and game out was that the back of the bullpen was going to be good. Jose Quezada and Ty Harpenau were solid out of the pen all season long and the team will miss them both next year as Quezada has graduated and Harpenau has decided to forgo his senior year to pursue professional baseball. Although he was technically a starter the back half of the season, I’m going to include Dylan Dusek in this group. I can see him becoming a good reliever in the majors someday as he has the “it” factor teams are always looking for. Quezada will blow you away with the speed of his fastball as he has been able to get up to 96 MPH on his fastball.
Harpenau has been praised for his pitching, but I think that his greatest asset on the mound is composure. This season, he has always stayed tough in unfavorable circumstances. The best and most memorable of these situations was in the College World Series opener against Florida. Harpenau came on in the 7th inning allowed a 2-run home run to allow the Gators to cut the Red Raider lead to just two runs. Harpenau then proceeded to throw two of his best innings of the year, leading the Red Raiders to a win. These three will be sorely missed in the bullpen next year, but I think the Red Raiders have much to look forward to next year.
The Red Raiders will probably end up losing a ton of what made this roster so great, but that doesn’t mean the team will be having a rebuild season anytime soon as backups and incoming freshmen and transfers will be making this team great. Tech still brings some big guns back as the Red Raider’s best player, Josh Jung, will return next year. Jung was the team’s leader in batting average with a .392. He also led the team with 103 hits, six triples, 80 RBIs, and a team-leading .491 on-base percentage. He is going to be the heart and soul of your lineup next year, and along with returners such as Gabe Holt, Brian Klein, and Cameron Warren, this lineup will still be very good if not exceptionally talented.
One thing that I am personally looking forward to that some others may not be looking forward to is the return of John McMillon to the bullpen. This year was a huge experiment for McMillon as they tried him out in a starting role for a good chunk of the season. I do not believe this worked well for him or the team as although he didn’t put up bad numbers, he struggled with control and I see him better as a bullpen player with his 95 plus MPH fastball. I believe that you not only get a solid bullpen piece for next year but with McMillon not starting, you can insert him into your lineup at the designated hitter spot as McMillon can be a great power bat in your lineup.
This team has made it to three College World Series in the past and have won two games. Not taking anything away from the team or program as that is an incredible accomplishment for any program. I think, however, that starting next year, the expectation will rise and just making it to Omaha will no longer be enough. I think the team took a great step in the right direction as this is the first time that the team has won their first game in Omaha. This is something to build on and I think that the expectation from here on out will be for the team to win the national championship within the next five years. Being honest, I believe that this is a very obtainable goal for this program as with a great coaching staff and some of the best recruiting in the country, this team has more than enough talent and heart to win a national championship.
This season was definitely one for the books. This team has given me many memories as this is the first year that I have covered baseball as a writer. Best of luck to all of the players moving on the bigger and better things. This team will definitely be in contention for a spot in Omaha once again and I will hopefully be around to cover it.
What are your thoughts on this season? What are your thoughts on the entirety of the 2017- 2018 year as a whole for Texas Tech? Let us know in the comment section below!