CBB Visit: Texas Tech’s New Era Begins

By: William Knox
Friday, February 20th was the dawn of a new era in Texas Tech baseball. The changing of the guard was officially ushered in with a double header sweep of Southern Utah University and Texas-Pan American, moving Texas Tech to 2-0 for the first time since the 2006 season.

Game 1 got off to a quick start after back-to-back doubles gave the Thunderbirds a 1-0 lead over the Red Raiders. Tech answered quickly with a bases loaded 2-run double from freshman DH Kevin Whitehead and an RBI single from junior LF Taylor Ashby. From there, sophomore RHP Chad Bettis and the rest of the Raiders entered cruise control, finishing off the visitors with a 14-3 victory.

Bettis threw 6 2/3 innings, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits and striking out 5, in picking up his first win of the season. In relief, Jordan Stern allowed only one run in a career high 2 1/3 innings pitched. Sophomore SS Joey Kenworthy and senior 1B Chris Richburg led the offensive onslaught, combining for 4 hits, 4 runs and 7 RBIs. Senior 2B and Preseason All-Big 12 member Willie Rueda swiped 3 of the 6 stolen bases for the Red Raiders. Newcomer Michael Reed collected 4 walks, falling 1 shy of the Texas Tech single game record shared by 3 players.

Unfortunately, Texas Tech’s hot bats did not carry over to the 2nd game against Texas-Pan American. The Bronco’s stifled the Texas Tech offense with a solid defensive performance, but came up 1-run shy of handing Dan Spencer his first career loss.

Starting pitcher Robert Kilcrease had no trouble finding the strike zone for the Raiders. The sophomore RHP struck out 5 UTPA batters in his 5 innings of work, allowing 3 runs in the process. Fr. RHP Louis Head started his career off well, throwing a perfect 6th inning before struggling in the 7th. In 1.2 innings, Head allowed 2 runs on 2 hits, striking out 1 and walking 2. Senior RHP Brian Cloud relieved Head with 2 outs in the 7th and runners on 1st and 2nd with an inning-ending strikeout. Cloud proceeded to set down the remaining 6 batters in order, picking up his first win of the young season.

Offensively, Texas Tech relied on clutch hitting to eek out the victory. With the bases loaded in the 4th inning, sophomore DH Jeremy Mayo hit an opposite-field double, plating all 3 runners, and giving Tech a 4-2 lead. The hit of the game for the Raiders wouldn’t come until the 7th inning. With 2 outs and runners on 1st and 2nd, junior RF Kellen Monreal hit a sharp grounder past 3rd, driving in sophomore Logan Brown with the go-ahead run. With a 6-5 lead, Texas Tech shut down the Broncos with pitching and solid defense.

Even though they scored 20 runs combined, the story of the day came from the improved defensive play. Freshman Justin Berry started both games at 3B and nobody questioned the decision. Opponents hit maybe 10 balls in Berry’s direction on Friday. 1 hit went over his head, another was just out of his diving reach. The other 8 were fielded perfectly, with 8 seemingly effortless throws behind them. Berry’s glove work and fluid throws were the most impressive of all the defenders. It is very obvious that Dan Spencer and his staff have worked hard to improve a defense that needed very little improvement after fielding at a .971 clip in 2008.

One thing that stood out today was the play calling on the base paths. Dan Spencer recognizes the speed that his team has, and utilized it with stolen bases and a few hit-and-runs. Willie Rueda ended with 5 stolen bases on 6 attempts (tagged out at home plate on a passed ball), while Michael Reed added 2 and Joey Kenworthy had 1. Another change today was the frequency that Tech attempted to move runners over with sacrifice hits. Although there is work needed on getting contact with bunts, it will be a strategy that Tech will employ more often than not when the situation is right.

Another note is the control displayed by the pitching staff. Texas Tech’s pitching staff average almost 5 walks per game in 2008, but issued only 5 total on Friday. There were also no wild pitches or hit batters, another problem that plagued the staff in 2008.

Dan Spencer and company got off to a great start today, and seem to have a bright future in Lubbock.

Tech plays again at 3 pm today against Southern Utah at Dan Law Field.

William Knox is currently a senior at Texas Tech University. He is also the founder of Absolutely Obnoxious where he gives his opinion about Texas Tech athletics. You can check out his site by clicking here.