In a matchup of two teams that might soon become conference rivals, the Texas Tech baseball team held off UCONN 3-2 on Friday to open the Gainesville, Florida regional in the NCAA Tournament.
The star of the day was Red Raider starter Mason Molina, who has a history of performing well in the postseason. Tossing 6+ innings, the lefty struck out 10 hitters and not giving up a hit until the 5th inning. Though he tired in the sixth on a hot day in central Florida giving up a pair of walks that would come around to score, this was by far Molina’s best outing of the year given the importance of opening the regional with a win.
Moving to 6-2 on the year, the sophomore from California has pitched at least six innings in his last three starts. During that time, he’s gone 2-1 while allowing no more than two earned runs in any of his starts.
Thankfully, by the time Molina wore down, he had received just enough run support to have a margin for error. That was due to some timely hitting from the Texas Tech bats.
In the first inning, Kevin Bazzell doubled home Gage Harrelson, who had previously singled, to stake the visiting team to a 1-0 lead. Then, in the top of the fifth, Zac Vooletich came up huge with a two-RBI single with the bases loaded. That hit would prove to be the game-winner and put an end to a bit of a dry spell for the Red Raider designated hitter.
The senior from San Antonio had just one RBI in four games at last week’s Big 12 Tournament and had managed to drive in just three runs since May 13 when he had an RBI at West Virginia.
That was all the Red Raider bullpen would need, though the relief corps gave UCONN an excellent opportunity to tie the game. In the bottom of the 8th, the Huskies got the potential tying run to third base with only one out. But Tech’s top reliever, Brandon Beckel, was able to induce a pair of harmless flyouts to get out of the jam.
It was important to see Tim Tadlock’s best reliever get back on track after a disastrous outing in the second game against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament. That night, he allowed two runs and three hits in just 1.1 innings of work as OSU completed a comeback from a 5-0 deficit to walk-off the Red Raiders and advance to the tournament finals.
If Tech is going to have any type of run this weekend and beyond, Beckel will have to come up big given that the rest of Tech’s bullpen has been a hit-or-miss proposition all season. Thus, his showing against a tough UCONN lineup was promising, to say the least.
In the ninth, Josh Sanders, a junior from Yukon, Oklahoma slammed the door on UCONN from Storrs, Connecticut. Sandwiching a pair of ground outs around a strikeout, Sanders gave Tech exactly what was needed, a drama-free ninth to seal the win.
The Red Raiders now move on to the winners’ bracket where they will face either No. 2 national seed Florida or FAMU, the No. 4 seed in this regional draw. Tech’s next game will take place Saturday evening with the winner being one game away from sweeping the weekend and heading to next weekend’s Super Regionals. Thus, starting off on the right foot was imperative for Tech and that’s exactly what Molina and the Red Raiders were able to do.