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Injuries and Improbable Runs: 2021 Baseball left its mark

As the first sport back to 100% since the COVID-19 pandemic, America’s past time gets us through rough times

Texas Tech Athletics

Think back for a moment. Its February 23rd, 2021. Texas is still thawing out after a winter storm unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Texas Tech Baseball is 0-3 overall and you’re thinking to yourself: I just don’t think Tech will do much this season. Who could blame you? It was a popular opinion at the time. Austin Becker was done for the year, Hunter Dobbins was shut down, and Jacob Brustoski was done as well. They were supposed to anchor this pitching staff along with transfers like Patrick Monteverde and Brandon Birdsell. The bullpen looked lackluster and you gave up 10 combined runs in the top of the ninth in two games of the opening season tournament, The State Farm College Baseball Showdown.

But you forgot about one person didn’t you? You forgot about the man who calls the shots. You forgot that we have Tim Tadlock.

Coach Tadlock turned in his best coaching performance to date this season. Injuries plagued this roster since before the first pitch was even thrown. If I told you on the 23rd of February that Tech would also lose Dylan Neuse in the TCU series for the year, lose Kurt Wilson for almost two months in the TCU series and lose Brandon Birdsell in that same series for the rest of the year as well....and still host a Super Regional, you would’ve called me crazy. Shoot I would’ve called myself crazy.

But it happened. We watched it unfold. It was beautiful.

We watched the Red Raiders win 14 in a row after the opening series. Those wins were highlighted by a Monday morning miracle, when Nate Rombach, Cal Conley, and Braxton Fulford went back-to-back-to-back to walk off and sweep UCONN at home.

The next weekend Tech took its first Big 12 series against Oklahoma State in a hard fought battle that is always to be expected from the pokes. South Florida (who also made a Super Regional) came in and Tech swept them with no problems. Things were good sitting at 19-4 on the year.

Then some recurring tendencies started rearing their ugly head. Kansas State happened and we find out later in the year that in the 17-1 game one win for Tech, Birdsell first injured his throwing arm. Tech promptly lost games two and three of that series and looked mortal again for the first time since the opening series. Tech had trouble with hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP) and the bullpen was shaky at best. These would be common traits in losses over the next couple of months.

The TCU series was won in a rubber match by Tech by a score of 17-7 in seven innings. One of my favorite games of the year. Tech destroyed TCU pitching and scored nine runs in the bottom of the sixth. This game followed an extra innings thriller the day before that was won on a Cal Conley walk off home run, that gave us one of the more memorable images of the year.

After series wins against Stephen F. Austin and West Virginia, Tech had to go through its first home series loss since 2018 when Baylor came to Lubbock and took two of three against the Red Raiders. Baylor outplayed Tech all weekend in all facets. This was one of the lower points of the year.

However, Tech wouldn’t have to wait long for its high point.

The next weekend, the Red Raiders traveled to Austin and took two of three from #3 Texas in the first home series loss for Texas all year. Nothing is better than beating Texas and its even sweeter in Austin. Ryan Sublette was huge in this series, Micah Dallas and Patrick Monteverde were key as well on the mound.

After winning the OU and Kansas series, Tech went 1-2 in the Big 12 tournament, which turned out to be enough to earn a #8 National Seed, to host both a Regional and Super Regional.

The Red Raiders had no problems sweeping their way through the regional, defeating all three teams in Army, North Carolina, and UCLA. The bullpen was phenomenal all series and the bats were as potent as ever. Tech looked prime for a run to Omaha.

But, it wasn’t meant to be.

Stanford made a statement in the Lubbock Super Regional, sweeping Tech by a combined score of 24-3. It was a painful ending to what was a pleasant surprise of a season. Over the weekend, the pitching was off and the bats were as quiet as they had been all year. Errors were committed in the field by the most reliable fielders. The crowd was taken out of the series after the first inning of game one, when Stanford scored four runs. It was never the same after that.

The Red Raiders simply ran out of gas.

This doesn’t take away from the season this team had. It was improbable and some might have called it impossible early on. I know I did. This team proved that it had fight. One of the grittiest and toughest teams I have ever had the privilege to watch.

They made us proud.

Postseason Awards:

Position Players of the Year: Dru Baker, Braxton Fulford, Cal Conley

Pitcher of the Year: Micah Dallas

Newcomer of the Year; Patrick Monteverde

Team MVP: Jace Jung

Unsung Heroes: TIE, Kurt Wilson, Parker Kelly

Game of the Year: TCU Game 3

Play of the Year: Ryan Sublette striking out Ardoin in Austin on three pitches after the rain delay.

Final Thoughts

This season could be characterized by two thoughts: What could’ve been, and what an unbelievable season. To me, its both. Its unbelievable that Tech hosted a Super with all of its injuries. Its an incredible coaching job. But man, if those injuries don’t happen, I firmly believe we would still be watching this team compete this weekend in Omaha.

Bottom line: there are great things to come from this program. Tech has signed Coach Tadlock to a lifetime deal, there are new facilities in the works, and there is a large group from this team returning for more next year.

The future is bright folks, very bright indeed.

Follow Along

Be sure to follow @vivathematadors and @homershub for all of your Texas Tech Sports updates. Football will be here sooner than you know it! Thanks for a memorable season.

Until next February, Wreck’em.