For one of the few times this season, everything both within and beyond the control of the Texas Tech baseball team fell into place.
Needing a win and a Texas loss to qualify for the Big 12 Championships next week in Oklahoma City, the Red Raiders did their part — and a whole lot more. A seven-run fourth inning paved the way to a 17-5 romp over Baylor in the opener of a three-game Big 12 Conference series at Rip Griffin Park.
Meanwhile, in Fort Worth, TCU was doing Tech a huge favor by shutting down the Longhorns for a 5-1, ensuring the Longhorns would miss the tournament for the first time since head coach Augie Garrido’s first season in Austin in 1997.
“It’s awesome,” said third baseman Jake Barrios, who had a career-high four RBIs in going 3 for 4. “Knowing that we’re going to Oklahoma City now, it allows us to just come out tomorrow and focus on playing good baseball and not having to worry about all the stuff around it.
“We played good tonight and hit the ball well. That’s good to see now coming down the home stretch. Hopefully we can get on a streak here and just keep it going and play good baseball.”
A three-run home run by Jarrard Poteete put Tech up for good in the third, then Tech ripped off seven two-out hits in the fourth, with RBI doubles by Jake Barrios, Eric Gutierrez and Poteete doing most of the damage and staking Tech to a nine-run lead.
The 17 runs is a season high for Tech (24-27, 8-14 in Big 12) and the most allowed by the Bears (26-24, 11-10) this season. It came on 21 hits, also a season high and the most for a Tech team in a Big 12 series opener since tagging Kansas State for 19 in 2004.
It was one of the best offensive games of the year for the Red Raiders, not just in terms of runs scored, but also by how they scored. Tech scored 13 of its 17 runs on two-out hits, including four extra-base hits, three of them in the decisive fourth and was 11 for 17 with two outs.
“I thought we did a good job of just continuing the (fourth) inning and that all happened with two outs,” Tech head coach Tim Tadlock said. “We really strung some good at-bats together in the fourth. It’s one of those deals where two-out hits definitely helps you win baseball games. You’re not going to get them every day and every game, but tonight we had some ball fall.”
Not only were they falling, but they were landing in the gaps, off the scoreboard and on the other side of the fence.
Tech’s top four hitters in the lineup — Brett Bell, Devon Conley, Barrios and Gutierrez — were a combined 11 for 19 with 10 runs and eight RBIs while Poteete, hitting sixth, was 3 for 5 with four RBIs, his second home run of the year and an RBI double in the fourth. Todd Ritchie, hitting seventh, also had a three-hit game with two driven in. Every Tech starter had at least one hit.
“I think we’ve progressed, but we finally got some results today,” Tadlock said. “The last thing we need to do now is focus on the results. We need to have good quality at-bats and grind them out and finish them.”
Tech’s offensive outburst helped starter Trey Masek settle down after three shaky innings to start the game. Masek struggled to locate his pitches and watched his pitch count soar to 57 through three innings, but gave up just a pair of runs on three hits.
After being staked to the big lead, Masek (5-1) retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced, leaving after seven innings and scattering two earned runs on five hits with two walks and seven strikeouts.
“I didn’t come out as sharp as I would have liked to, but our offense showed up to play tonight,” Masek said. “I came back to the dugout and talked with (pitching coach Ray Hayward) about what he was seeing and what I was feeling. We got regrouped and I went out there and was able to throw up some zeros.”
The day did not start off very well from Tech’s end as Baylor held a pair of leads on RBIs by Nathan Orf in the first and third innings.
But it didn’t last long. Conley and Barrios singled to start the third for Tech, but were still on base after Baylor starter Max Garner came back with strikeouts of Gutierrez and Bryant Burleson. Poteete, however, atoned for hitting into a double play in the first inning by launching his third home run of the year off the scoreboard in right-center, putting Tech up 4-2.
Turns out, the Red Raiders were just getting started.
The fourth inning started innocently enough as Garner struck out Mason Randolph and Tim Proudfoot. But Bell singled to left and Conley walked to bring up Barrios, who torched a letter-high Garner offering just inside the bag at third and to the corner, scoring two to make it a 6-2 game.
That was only the beginning as the Red Raiders ripped off seven two-out hits total, not finishing until they were in complete command at 11-2.
“Hitting is contagious, they say,” Barrios said. “That was great for us and gave us confidence going into the rest of the game, and hopefully we can continue that throughout the series.”
Garner (3-6) took the brunt of the Tech outburst, allowing season highs in runs (10) and hits (12) while walking one and striking out six in 32/3 innings.
The Red Raiders added a pair of three-run innings against Baylor relievers Sterling Wynn and Jake Miller. Gutierrez’s team-leading fourth home run of the year capped the seventh and pushed Tech’s lead to 14-2, then run-scoring hits by Ritchie and Conley and an RBI groundout by Proudfoot made it 17-4 in the eighth.
Baylor added one run in the ninth off Tech reliever Johnathon Tripp for the final run of the game. By then, however, the Red Raiders were well on their way next week to Oklahoma City.
“We’ve got two more games to take care of,” Masek said. “We’re going to show up (Friday and Saturday) and be ready to play and hopefully build some momentum going into Bricktown.”