The Texas Tech baseball team has played all season as one of the youngest teams in the country in terms of number of newcomers and lack of returning veterans.
That percentage dwindles even further when it comes to members of the Red Raiders with experience playing in the Big 12 Championships in Oklahoma City this week.
Thanks to Tech missing the tournament a year ago, of the 35 players listed on Tech’s opening day roster, only five have been to Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark — pitchers Trey Masek, Andre Wheeler and Jerad McCrummen, first baseman Scott LeJeune and catcher Trey Masek.
That lack of experience, however, is not viewed as a distraction or disadvantage for a Tech team that has won six of its last 10 and is coming off its first Big 12 series victory in two months this past weekend against Baylor.
“(Going to the tournament) is important because, moving forward, we’ve got high aspirations around here,” head coach Tim Tadlock said after Tech’s 17-5 tournament-clinching victory on Thursday. They need to know what Bricktown’s about whether we’re just going to Bricktown, or whether we’re set to go to a regional or whatever the case may be. Right now, to play in an eight-team tournament where you’ve got to lose two games for your season to be over, is a blessing for us.”
The Red Raiders (25-28), seeded eighth, will open with regular-season champion Kansas State (39-16) on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. It is the first meeting between the teams in the tournament since 2002 when they met twice. Tech won the opening-round game (5-4) before being eliminated by the Wildcats three days later (7-6).
Also in Tech’s side of the bracket are No. 4 seed Oklahoma (36-19) and No. 5 seed Baylor (27-25). Against those three teams, Tech this season was a combined 3-6, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Wildcats in Manhattan and a series win over Baylor this past weekend.
Tech, however, did not have ace right-handed starting pitcher Trey Masek earlier this season against Kansas State as he was nursing tendinitis in his throwing arm and shoulder.
Still, finishing six games under .500 in conference and three games behind seventh seed TCU makes Tech a prohibitive underdog in the tournament. That is magnified even more when realizing that, since the tournament expanded to eight teams in 1999, the No. 8 seed has never won the tournament and has played in the championship game just once (Missouri in 2011).
On the other hand, the No. 8 seed has won its first-round game in four of the last five tournaments.
Tadlock, however, doesn’t buy into the underdog role.
“I think it’d be smart to say (because) we are playing the number one team on Wednesday,” Tadlock said. “What do you have to lose as far as that goes? But I have a hard time getting my mind wrapped around that because every time we line up to play we feel like we can win.”
If the Red Raiders continue to do things like they did, for the most part, this past weekend, winning a game or two in the tournament might not be that far-fetched.
Tech — and it’s not even close — had its most offensive Big 12 weekend of the season, scoring 32 runs in three games while hitting .383 to raise its league team average almost 20 points to .256 (.262 overall). The next best weekend in league play was losing two of three to Kansas and scoring 20 runs, 16 of which came in one game.
“I think we’re playing, without a doubt, our best baseball right now,” Tadlock said. “The guys are putting it together, they’re playing the game the right way.
We’ve given ourselves a chance to go to Oklahoma City and win this thing.”