Can Texas Tech baseball team win Gainesville Regional? Here’s why and why not

Texas Tech baseball coach Tim Tadlock, being an optimist by nature, likes to believe his team’s best performances should still be coming.

“We’ve seen spurts of it. We’ve seen games of it,” Tadlock said Monday. “We’ve seen parts of games of it. But to really put it all together for three or four days, I don’t know that we’ve truly seen that. It takes a lot of maturity. It takes good offense or good pitching or good defense or some combination of the two.

“I know the effort’s there. I know the want-to’s there. … The way these guys have gone about their business for the most part, you’re in a position the game could reward you with a little streak, maybe a little 11-game winning streak.”

Tech finished sixth in the Big 12 with a 12-12 record, its first time since 2013 not to end above .500 in conference play.

The Red Raiders need to find a higher level as they gear up to start the NCAA postseason this week at the Gainesville Regional, which has No. 2 national seed Florida as the host and Connecticut, a team that won a regional last year, as the No. 2 regional seed.

No. 3 seed Tech (39-21) plays UConn (43-15) in a first-round game at 11 a.m. CDT Friday. The other first-round game pits Florida (44-14) against Florida A&M (29-28), the champion of the Southeastern Conference against the champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Here’s why Texas Tech could surprise in the Gainesville Regional and factors working against the Red Raiders.

Texas Tech’s Gavin Kash (13) celebrates after hitting his 24th home run of the season during a first-round game against West Virginia in the Big 12 Conference Tournament on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

Texas Tech’s Gavin Kash (13) celebrates after hitting his 24th home run of the season during a first-round game against West Virginia in the Big 12 Conference Tournament on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

Why Texas Tech will advance to a super regional:

The Red Raiders bash their way through the Gainesville bracket

Texas Tech has scored 510 runs, which ranks ninth among 295 teams in NCAA Division I, fourth among teams in the power-five conferences and first in the Big 12.

Though Gavin Kash is among the national leaders with his 24 home runs and 81 runs batted in, the Red Raiders don’t sink or swim based solely on their slugging first baseman. Leadoff batter Nolen Hester ranks sixth in Division I in on-base percentage, and four members of the lineup besides Kash have at least 45 runs batted in.

They have a manageable first-round game

It would be foolish to dismiss UConn. The Huskies are in a regional for the ninth time in the past 13 NCAA tournaments and have won at least two games in four of those regionals. They won Maryland’s regional last year and took the first game of a super regional from Stanford before losing the series.

However, this is an exercise about how Texas Tech gets out of Gainesville, so begin with this: UConn’s not likely to start a dominant pitcher against the Red Raiders. Of the four Huskies pitchers with at least 10 starts this season, the earned-run averages are 4.75, 5.28, 5.74 and 6.24.

UConn lefthander Zach Fogell is 8-0 with a 1.74 ERA and only four extra-base hits allowed in 41 1/3 innings. Justin Willis is 3-3 with a 3.32 ERA and 11 saves. But Fogell and Willis have been used exclusively in relief, generally in one- to two-inning appearances. The key for the Red Raiders is to do damage before the Huskies can hand the game to Fogell and Willis with a lead.

Recent history favors the Red Raiders

Granted, there’s been personnel turnover on both sides, but Texas Tech swept a four-game series from UConn two years ago in Lubbock. It was mid-March, a time of the season when teams from the north generally are not as sharp as their counterparts in southern climes.

But that UConn team finished 34-19, making an NCAA regional at Notre Dame and beating Michigan in a first-round game. It bears repeating: The Huskies are legit. And the Red Raiders took four from them not that long ago.

Florida utility Jac Caglianone (14) reacts to his home run during the fifth inning of a regular season NCAA baseball game at 121 Financial Ballpark in Jacksonville, Fla. Florida defeated Florida St. 7-5. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]

Florida utility Jac Caglianone (14) reacts to his home run during the fifth inning of a regular season NCAA baseball game at 121 Financial Ballpark in Jacksonville, Fla. Florida defeated Florida St. 7-5. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]

Why Texas Tech won’t advance to a super regional

The Red Raiders have to upset one of the nation’s best teams at home

The NCAA’s Division I baseball committee put 10 SEC teams in the tournament, and Florida was judged to be the best of the 10. The Gators were co-champions of the SEC with Arkansas, each with 20-10 conference records. They led the SEC with seven all-conference selections and five on the first team.

The all-SEC first-teamers are first baseman Jac Caglianone, second baseman Cade Kurland, shortstop Josh Rivera, outfielder Wyatt Langford and relief pitcher Brandon Neely. Langford was an all-American last year when he tied the Gators’ single-season home-run record with 26. He has 17 this season. Caglianone recently broke the record and now has 28 home runs and 76 RBI.

At their home ballpark, the Gators have won 11 consecutive series dating to last season. And they’ve won nine home games in a row, including a three-game sweep of now-No. 6 national seed Vanderbilt in the last SEC series.

The pitching isn’t strong enough

Beyond No. 1 starter Mason Molina, high-leverage relievers Brandon Beckel and perhaps one or two others, the Red Raiders have been caught short in the pitching department.

It figured to be a challenge from day one, given that Major League teams drafted starters Andrew Morris, Brandon Birdsell and Chase Hampton in the first six rounds last summer and arm problems felled two of the projected replacements, Jack Washburn and Bo Blessie.

The situation has taken a turn for the worse in the past two weeks. No. 2 starter Trendan Parish (shoulder) is on the shelf, and Beckel gave up home runs in the ninth inning of tie games against Kansas and Oklahoma State, resulting in 3-1 and 6-5 losses.

Defensive issues will be magnified

Tech coach Tim Tadlock has said more than once this season his team’s defense is better than some of the numbers show. That’s fair, given that players with plus range can make errors on balls average defenders don’t get a glove on.

However, Tech’s fielding percentage (.964) is outside the top 200 teams in Division I, and the Red Raiders lead the Big 12 in passed balls (18), stolen bases allowed (90) and opponent stolen-base success rate (.793).

To win a regional with two higher seeded teams, the Red Raiders must be more fundamentally sound.

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Can Texas Tech baseball team win Gainesville Regional? Here’s why and why not

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