The Red Raiders lost to no.7 Mississippi State by a score of 11-5, ending opening weekend for Texas Tech baseball at the 2021 State Farm College Baseball Showdown.
LHP Mason Montgomery got the start for the Red Raiders, and the rest of the lineup was as follows:
Dylan Neuse (CF)
Cal Conley (SS)
Easton Murrell (RF)
Dru Baker (LF)
Jace Jung (2B)
Cole Stilwell (DH)
Nate Rombach (1B)
Brandon Fulford (C)
Parker Kelly (3B)
Montgomery's final game and only loss of the 2020 season came against the same team who Tech failed to beat today: the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Many expected a bounce back game from Montgomery and he showed signs of doing just that after pitching against only three batters in the first inning, striking two of them out.
By the time the Red Raiders were up to bat in the fourth inning, Montgomery had allowed Mississippi State (MSU) to take a 1-0 lead on three hits and two walks. This would be the end of Montgomery’s day on the mound.
“We’d have loved to run him back out there, but his pitch count just wasn't where we wanted it to be,” head baseball coach Tim Tadlock said in a press conference following the game. “He’s gonna be good, he's a tough matchup and you could see that in his first time through the order.”
Jace Jung began the bottom of the fourth with a leadoff single, and was eventually brought home by a Braxton Fulford double to left field, tying the score at one.
Things ramped up in the fifth inning when Tadlock brought in his first reliever of the evening in true freshman RHP Chase Hampton.
Hampton gave up two runs in the top of the fifth, after an error by Tech first baseman Nate Rombach got two runners on base for the Bulldogs and MSU’s Rowdey Jordan hitting a single to right field that scored both.
The Red Raiders were quick to respond with some runs of their own, with outfielder Dru Baker hitting an RBI single to third base that allowed Dylan Neuse to score and a wild pitch allowing Easton Murrel to score just two at bats later. Later that inning, Cole Stilwell would hit an RBI single to center field allowing Baker to score.
Down 4-3 entering the sixth, Mississippi State responded quickly in the form of a two-run home run by DH Luke Hancock, who entered the game hitting .625. The next two batters grounded out and the Red Raiders tied the score at 5 in the bottom of the sixth, but enough damage had been done for Tadlock to turn things over to another freshman pitcher, freshman LHP Jamie Hitt.
The seventh inning resembled the first few innings, with both teams struggling to add to the scoreboard. Hitt came in and allowed a double before he threw a strike, but bounced back and only allowed three more batters to face him.
This would have been a great time for Tech to grab the lead, and it would have been an important lead with only two innings remaining, but instead, Fulford and Parker Kelly both struck out and Nuese grounded out to end the inning.
Entering the eighth inning, the score was tied at 5-5. The Red Raiders would go on to be outscored 6-0 before the game was over.
The only run to be scored in the eighth inning came when Rombach could not hold on to a flip pass from Jung, which allowed catcher Logan Tanner to score off of an Scotty Dubrule RBI single and gave Mississippi State a 6-5 lead.
Rombach was making his first start of the year at first base after missing the first game of the year and then playing catcher in Tech’s matchup against Ole Miss on Feb. 20. Not only did Rombach struggle at first base on defense, but he went 0-5 at bat, a considerable step down from Saturday’s production when Rombach hit a 2-run home run in the second inning to give Tech a 2-0 lead.
“He had a chance to write his name in the lineup last night at catcher and he had a chance to do it at first today,” Tadlock said. “I know he can swing the bat, and I know we need him.”
The ninth inning is when things really got out of control for the Red Raiders, as Hitt was pulled after allowing an RBI triple to left field from MSU’s leadoff hitter Rowdey Jordan and was replaced by sophomore Chase Webster.
However the reliever would do no better, with shortstop Kamren James hitting an RBI single off of Chase Webster on an 0-0 count.
The scoring was not over however, with a communication error between Webster and Rombach symbolizing the disappointing performances from both players involved.
MSU’s first baseman Josh Hatcher hit an infield pop up in between the pitcher's mound and first base, just for both position’s players to try and make the play and resulting in Webster dropping the ball and James scoring. On top of this mistake, Webster made an errant throw towards home during the play, and MSU outfielder Tanner Allen scored with ease.
Luke Hancock added on to the scoring barrage with an RBI single to center field that would bring in Hatcher, adding onto his impressive day that included a two-run home run a few innings earlier. Scotty Dubrule struck out swinging in the next at-bat, bringing an end to a nightmarish inning for the Red Raiders.
Tech could not hit its way back into the game, however, failing to score another run before MSU’s reliever Spencer Price struck out Rombach, Braxton Fulford and Drew Woodcox.
Though Tech failed to get a win in its opening weekend, there were still many interesting developments on display during the tournament.
Tadlock initially hinted that redshirt sophomore Cal Conley might not see much time this weekend when he addressed the media in the Virtual First Pitch Event last week, saying the infielder had some health issues that needed to be figured out as the cause for this uncertainty. However, Conley started at third base for the first two games of the season while Wilson started at shortstop. Conley returned to shortstop against Mississippi State in the last game of the weekend, the position he started 18 games for the Red Raiders last year.
Conley not only started every game this weekend, but has been impressive so far. In the game against Mississippi State, Conley was the recipient of a beautiful throw from Fulford that caught MSU first baseman Scotty Dubrule attempting to steal second and ended the top of the eighth inning.
Conley carried that momentum into his bat, laying down a beautiful bunt to start the button of the eight and then using his wheels to beat out the defenders to first.
“Cal’s a baseball player,” Tadlock said after the game. “He's one of those guys that can show up and play at a decent level and he did that this weekend. I thought really it was the right thing to play Kurt at short early on, he had done a lot of work there and it gave us another option in the infield.”