Texas Tech baseball head coach Tim Tadlock took a calculated gamble on Friday to open the Lubbock Regional portion of the NCAA Tournament. Turning to freshman starter Chase Hampton, the team’s fourth-best starter in the regular season, Tadlock put his eggs in a rather unproven basket in the hopes that he could preserve his more trusted starters for later in the weekend. Thankfully, Tadlock’s shortstop, Cal Conley, helped make that decision seem wise.
Belting a pair of homers on the day, the second-team All-American amassed three RBI in the Red Raiders 6-3 victory over the Black Knights in what was far from an easy opening game. In fact, Hampton and his team fell behind by a run on two separate occasions early in the game.
Giving up a run on a bunt single in the first, Tech saw Army jump out to a 1-0 lead after one at-bat. Then, after Tech had tied the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the second, the Knights would score an unearned run in the top of the third. But that’s when Conley’s big bat would change the trajectory of the game.
With Big 12 Player of the Year and homerun king Jace Jung on first base after a single, Conley would unload on an offering and send it over the Red Raider bullpen in right-center to put his team ahead for the first time on the day. Tech would not trail again.
An inning later, Tech would get a long ball from catcher Braxton Fulford to push the lead to 5-3. Interestingly, on base at the time of Fulford’s blast was Kurt Wilson who was making his first start in the field since mid-April after recovering from a broken thumb sustained on a head-fist slide into third base.
Wilson, who has been giving his team some innings out of the bullpen as a pitcher since his injury was sustained, would shake off the rust at the plate to go 1-4. Now, Tech hopes the .261 hitter on the season can help fortify the bottom half of the batting order, which has at times been suspect this season.
Conley would then put a cap on his team’s scoring by hitting another bomb in the fifth, this one bouncing off of the scoreboard in right-center. Pushing the lead to 6-2, Conley would give Tech some much-needed breathing room.
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The rest was up to the Red Raider pitching staff. And it began with Hampton.
Tossing six innings and giving up just two total runs (one earned), the freshman was as solid as anyone could have asked him to be in what was just his sixth start of the year. Tossing 79 pitches and striking out seven hitters, Hampton worked around trouble for most of his appearance. In fact, in five of his six innings, he had to deal with at least one runner on base.
But Hampton never let the Black Knights pick up the timely hits that could have put more pressure on the Red Raiders. It was the definition of “scattering” seven hits.
Conor Queen would then work two innings out of the pen giving up a run via a solo homer. Meanwhile, Micah Dallas was Tech’s surprise closer as he came out of the bullpen for the first time since early April after making seven straight starts.
It will be interesting to see how Tadlock uses Dallas, who has a 3.43 ERA and who helped settle the Red Raider weekend rotation over the second half of the season, for the remainder of the regional. Being as Dallas threw only 11 pitches against Army, it is possible to envision him making a start on Sunday or Monday if needed. However, Tadlock may prefer to use him to sure up a bullpen that has been shaky at times this year.
But Tech has some options on the mound thanks to the gamble that paid off for Tadlock on Friday in the form of a strong start from Hampton. Hopefully, Tadlock continues to push all the right buttons for the remainder of the Lubbock Regional.