Back in Lubbock from their second trip to Omaha in three years, the Red Raiders received their College World Series gifts.
One of them, a replica of the national championship trophy, sparked a fire inside that Texas Tech clubhouse.
Etched on the bottom of the trophy was the word “participant.”
“It bugged a lot of people,” sophomore pitcher Davis Martin said. “Freshman year in the weight room we had a lot of guys who were like, ‘I’ve never been a big workout guy,’ and this year everybody’s biting at the bit to do anything extra that they can do to get better. It’s built a fire up inside a lot of us. We’re ready to get it cracking for sure.”
These Red Raiders, the defending Big 12 champions, are don’t just “want to make it to Omaha” anymore.
They’re ready to win it all.
“You have to respect the fact that you went to the World Series. A lot of teams don’t get to that,” Martin said. “But just being there is kind of over with.”
A vital key to returning to Omaha is Texas Tech’s pitching staff.The starting rotation that got the Red Raiders back to the College World Series remains intact.
Martin, Steven Gingery and Ty Harpenau were all only freshmen a year ago.
“They’ve gone out in the summer and thrown well,” Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. “Our guys face them every day so they know they’re tough to hit.”
Martin, a freshman All-American, posted a 10-1 record through 14 starts, putting together a 2.52 earned-run average.
His 10 wins tied for the most in the conference as well as nationally among freshmen, with his 10th coming in Tech’s first ever victory at the College World Series against No. 1 Florida.
He was joined by Gingery in receiving freshman all-America recognition from Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
Gingery recorded a 4-2 record behind a 3.18 ERA over 68.0 innings pitched.Last season, he rung up a team-high 63 batters and pieced together a spotless 3-0 performance in Big 12 play, with an ERA of 1.85 over eight starts.
“When you had Eric Gutierrez, Cory Raley and Tyler Neslony, we knew those guys could score seven or eight runs a game, so as pitchers we relaxed,” Martin said. “Now, we need to try and take that burden off our hitting.”
Joining the returners in the bullpen is another class of talented freshmen.
“John Henry (Gonzalez) is a guy who has always pitched well,” Tadlock said. “Jake McDonald is a guy with a power sinker who can really get it up there. I tell you what, there’s a good group of freshmen there that opened some of the sophomores’ eyes in the fall. Those guys have a lot of fun competing against each other.”
Throw into the mix Dylan Dusek who is returning from Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss all of last season.
With all the pieces of this pitching staff, Tech should have the ability to shorten games with its bullpen.
Top of the lineup?
A year ago, the Red Raider lineup was one of the most dangerous in the country as Tech was second in the Big 12 at .291.
But, Tanner Gardner is the only one of Texas Tech’s top five hitters to return this season as he led the way hitting .379.
Along with Gardner, Hunter Hargrove (.305) returns this season. Hargrove was usually the batter behind Gutierrez last season, and whenever the opposing team would intentionally walk the all-American, Hargrove made them pay for it.
Also back in the lineup are shortstop Orlando Garcia (.265), second baseman Michael Davis (.268) and third baseman Ryan Long (.225).
“Ryan absolutely crushed me every time we faced each other,” Martin said. “I think in the fall overall he went 3-for-4 with two home runs and a double off me. He was my arch-nemesis. We have some guys who can knock it around the park a little bit. I think we lost a lot of names this year but a lot of guys are going to surprise some people.”
Must of the batting order, though, will feature new faces.
This is where freshmen Josh Jung, John McMillon, Michael Berglund and Clay Koelzer can make their mark as well as two guys who played well during the fall in Conner Beck and Brian Klein.
“Those guys are a lot of fun to watch,” Tadlock said. “You know what you’re going to get with those guys each and every day which is really nice when you start making a lineup out and you know guys are going to show up. They’re baseball players.”
Returning to Omaha
Texas Tech was picked to finish third in the Big 12 preseason poll.It’s the first time since 2000 that the Red Raiders were selected to finish third or higher.
“This group will fall in line with the group from last year, show up, compete and expect to win,” Tadlock said. “Then it’s about executing. You can talk about it all you want. You have to go out and execute. The beauty of baseball is that you get to go play each and every day.”
And it’s how the Red Raiders execute on a daily basis that will determine if their season ends in Omaha or not. Texas Tech has 17 returning letterwinners and a top 25 recruiting class.
And one of the toughest schedules against three College World Series teams and a few other teams who advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season.
“Believe me, it’s not any fun leaving (Omaha) early and watching the championship series on TV or catching it in a restaurant on TV,” Tadlock said. “I will tell you that the guys that are back that were in that locker room, there was sincere disappointment in that locker room last year. It was a total different feel from 2014. … Last year that group could really see what was in front of them. They could see that they could compete with those teams.”