Am I the only one who feels like the Red Raiders always have to do things the hard way, regardless of the sport? They never seem to just take the easy path and glide their way to good things or dismantle an opponent when something important is on the line. That feeling cropped up again on Sunday evening as the Texas Tech baseball team wasted a golden opportunity to sweep through the Gainesville, Florida regional and instead were dominated in all aspects of the game in a 7-1 loss to Florida to set up a winner-moves-on game on Monday.
What is most frustrating is that Tim Tadlock actually got a quality start from freshman Zane Petty. Coming off of a terrible showing against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament that saw him allow six runs in just 2.1 innings of work, the righty from Corsicana was excellent against the Gators.
Tossing 5.0 innings, he allowed only one run on one hit while nearly making it through the Gators’ potent lineup three complete times. Unfortunately, his teammates couldn’t take advantage at the plate, though.
That’s because Florida starter Cade Fisher, who has primarily been a reliever this season, was spectacular in his own right. Tossing 7.0 sterling innings, he gave up just one run and five hits while striking out six Red Raiders over the course of 28 batters faced.
Unfortunately, the Red Raiders were the team that flinched first in this pitcher’s duel. In the top of the 6th, with a man on base, UF benefited from a touch of luck when Red Raider center fielder Gage Harrelson lost a routine fly ball in the lights turning what should have been an easy out into a double as the ball bounced over the fence.
That set up the game-changing at-bat, one that saw Tadlock make a surprising tactical error. After a wild double-play that saw Tech gun down two Florida runners at home plate on the same play, Tech had a chance to get out of the jam.
However, instead of intentionally walking Florida’s best hitter, Jac Caglianone, Tadlock allowed seldomly-used righty Jase Lopez to pitch to one of the best hitters in the country despite the fact that Lopez had appeared in only one game since throwing four pitches against Abilene Christian on April 25.
Predictably, Caglianone got the better of the matchup as he singled home the game’s first run. It was a maddening decision by Tadlock who put his trust in a pitcher who had thrown only 17.1 innings on the season to win a matchup with a hitter who is now batting .341 on the season and who has 84 RBI and 31 homers to his name in 2023.
Sure, Tadlock was going to have to go deep into his shaky bullpen at some point this weekend but why ask Lopez to get out of a jam against arguably the best hitter in college baseball when first base was open? That miscalculation by the Red Raider head coach was the turning point in the game.
After the Gators broke the seal with that at-bat, a throwing error by third baseman Kevin Bazzell led to another Florida run. Then, before Tech could end the inning, a two-RBI single would plate two more for the SEC regular-season champions. Ultimately, that would be all the offense the Gators would need, though they would plate three more insurance runs in the top of the 9th.
The only Red Raider offense came in the 8th via a sacrifice fly off the bat of Bazzell. In all, Tech would manage only seven hits while striking out eight times in a game where the opponent started a freshman who had not gone more than four innings in any appearance this year. Why? Because Texas Tech has to do everything the hard way. It’s in our D.N.A.
Now, the tide has swung back toward the Gators who have forced a deciding championship game in the regional on Monday at 11 am C.S.T. Hopefully, what we saw on Sunday doesn’t repeat itself because if it does, Tech will have suffered a second two-game sweep in the last nine days by an opponent to be eliminated from a postseason tournament. And this time, there wouldn’t be a next weekend to look forward to.