Texas Tech baseball fans hoping to see positive signs heading into the 2014 season may have gotten just that in the 2013 season finale.
Freshman right-hander Matt Withrow overcame early control problems to limit Baylor to two runs over five innings, and nine-hole-hitting sophomore shortstop Tim Proudfoot went 3 for 4 with five RBIs as the Red Raiders ended the year with an 8-2 victory over Baylor in the final game of pool play at the Big 12 Championship.
“It’s really important that guys mature as they play in your program and get better and get stronger,” Tech head coach Tim Tadlock said. “If you get (this performance) out of these guys and the keep progressing, and get Timmy to swing the bat like that every day, he’d be a force. Matt knows he’s got room to grow and at the same time he’s got the best stuff in the ballpark in most ballparks. We look forward to seeing him get better and better.”
The win ends Tech’s season at 26-30 overall, disappointing in the grand scheme of things but encouraging in that the Red Raiders were one of the most inexperienced teams in the country to start the year with 25 newcomers. Depending on what happens with the Major League Baseball draft, much of that youth will turn to experience next season.
That’s what makes Saturday’s performance in a game with nothing on the line but pride even more critical. Both the Bears (27-28), who finished under .500 for the first time in eight seasons, and the Red Raiders entered the day 0-2 in pool play with no chance of advancing to Sunday’s championship game.
Tech’s batting order on Saturday featured no seniors, four juniors, three sophomores and two true freshmen, and it was the bottom of that order, most of which are expected to be back next season, that did the most damage.
The majority of that damage came from Proudfoot, Tech’s shortstop known more for his top-notch defense than his bat. The sophomore from Washington state entered the day 1 for 6 with an infield single in the two previous tournament games, but unleashed his bat against the Bears.
He flied out in his first at-bat, then tied the game at 2 with an RBI single to left in the fifth inning. He came up again in the sixth and ripped a two-run double to the wall in left to push the Red Raider lead to 5-2, then finished his day in the eight with a two-out, two-run single to right-center to increase the Tech lead to 7-2.
“I was seeing the ball today pretty good,” Proudfoot said. “I was just trying to do less than I was trying to do, and that seemed to work out better today so I’m going to keep doing it next season.”
Despite walking four batters in the first two innings, Withrow also had a solid inning on which to build for next season. He gave up just two runs on two hits, both of the runs coming on walks. But he also struck out four and retired a string of eight straight over the second, third and fourth innings that allowed Tech to stay in the game.
“It’s just a mindset,” said Withrow, who closes his first season as a Red Raider with a 5-3 record and was one of Tech’s best pitchers over the last month of the season. “I was trying to be too perfect early and that showed. I was nitpicking and not getting the strikes, so I said I would just go out and throw strikes.”
Junior left-hander Jonny Drozd tossed four innings of shutout relief, ending the season with 172/3 straight scoreless innings.
Junior outfielder Devon Conley, who could draw considerable interest in the draft with his blazing speed, had two hits and scored twice, including a triple and an error on Baylor right fielder Nathan Orf in the third that tied the game at 1.
Juniors Todd Ritchie and Mason Randolph each scored twice, while sophomore Bryant Burleson and senior Scott LeJeune each added RBI singles, giving Tech its first win over the Bears in the tournament since 1998 and just a hint of a good feeling going into the first full off-season for Tadlock and his staff, who will welcome a Top 25 recruiting class in the fall.
“We’re putting the pieces together for next year and we’re going to put together the best team we can,” Tadlock said. “The kids are going to play the game the right way and we have all the respect in the world for them coming out and doing that today. We’ll continue to do that and hopefully that will work out into some more Ws.”