Texas Tech baseball defeats Rice, 19-12

Redshirt freshman infielder celebrates his run with teammate Jace Jung. Texas Tech will play game two of the series against Kansas State April 2.

The No. 6 Texas Tech baseball team improved their record to 17-4 when they defeated South Florida on Friday by a score of 16-6.

The Red Raiders won the first game of a three day series against USF largely due to a great hitting day, including a nine-run fifth inning.

Sophomore Brandon Birdsell got the start on the mound for the Red Raiders in the opening game of the weekend series against Baylor. Birdsell’s final statline of the day consisted of eight strikeouts and only one run allowed on five hits, without walking a single batter.

USF’s Drew Brutcher was the first batter of the game, and hit a single right by Tech’s freshman first baseman Drew Woodcox on Birdsell’s first pitch of the day. Birdsell responded well however, getting the next batter to fly out to center and striking out the next two. 

After the game, Birdsell detailed his approach after giving up a leadoff hit.

“In this game you have to be so mentally tough, so you can't let little things like that bother you,” Birdsell said. “In that moment it was just about sticking to solid pitches.”

The Red Raiders’ first inning on offense featured only a hit and a walk before it came to a close after five at-bats. Redshirt Freshman infielder Cal Conley hit a single on the first pitch he saw of the day, but it wasn't enough for Tech to close the first inning with a score, and the second inning started as scoreless as the first.

Birdsell kept his momentum going in the second inning, getting both of his first two batters in the top of the second to fly out, and striking out his third batter to finish the inning. 

Tech capitalized on Birdsell’s scoreless inning by jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Junior catcher Braxton Fulford got the first hit of the inning with a double, and was brought home in the form of a home run by freshman outfielder Dillon Carter.

Carter’s home run came on his first pitch of the year, as the young outfielder had suffered an shoulder injury that required surgery and was forced to miss the first twenty games of the season.

Carter started 16 games in the shortened 2020 season that only contained 19 games for Texas Tech, making a big impact on the team in only his first season, finishing second on the team in stolen bases. After the game, Carter spoke on how it feels to be back on the field and to hit his first home run. 

“It’s a blast,” Carter said. “I’m glad I've gotten the opportunity to get back in the lineup. (Tadlock) always preaches to be where your feet are and move on the right pitch and I just saw it coming over the middle and took a move on it.”

Birdsell started the third inning with a fly out, and then followed by getting the second batter of the inning to strike out looking after only three pitches. Birdsell gave up his second hit of the day to the next batter though, as USF’s Drew Brutcher got his second single of the day in only his second at bat.

The third inning did not feature the same hitting performance from the Red Raiders as the second, as only three batters got chances at the plate with each of them flying out or grounding out.

South Florida finally got on the scoreboard in the top of the fourth inning when a wild pitch got past Fulford, and things looked grim for the Red Raiders when Birdsell gave up a single on the very next pitch.

However, Birdsell was able to strike out the next batter in three pitches, getting his seventh strike out of the day and retiring the side.

The Red Raiders' fourth inning was similar to the first, with Easton Murrell starting the inning by lining out to USF’s shortstop Nick Gonzalez. Fulford and Carter were the next two batters, but both struck out swinging on 1-2 counts.

After giving up a single on a bunt by USF’s catcher Jake Sullivan to begin the fifth inning, Birdsell responded by getting out the next three batters, including another strikeout that brought his total to eight.

Freshman utility player Drew Woodcox started off the bottom of the fifth with the first home run of his collegiate career, increasing Tech’s lead from 2-1 to 3-1. After a single by junior centerfielder Dylan Neuse and a Conley walk, sophomore outfielder Dru Baker was up to the plate after flying out to right twice so far in the game.

Baker brought in both of the runners on base with a triple for his first hit of the day, and then was brought home himself after freshman infielder Jace Jung hit a double in his first pitch. The RBI streak wasn't over however, as junior third baseman Kurt Wilson hit a single to center field on the very next pitch, scoring Jung.

USF’s starting pitcher Jack Jasiak’s day ended two batters later after walking Carter, finishing the game with seven runs allowed on eight hits and three walks while only striking out three batters. Jasiak would finish the day with 86 total pitches thrown.

USF brought in redshirt junior RHP Baron Stuart in relief for Jasiak, but the scoring would continue for the Red Raiders in the fifth.

In Woodcox’s second at bat of the inning, he hit the second home run of his career, scoring Wilson and Carter. Stuart would walk Neuse in his next at bat and give up a single to Cal Conley in the one after, then gave up a single to Baker that scored Neuse.

Stuart would get his first out of the game in the form of a fly out by Jace Jung, but the fifth inning would come to a close with the Red Raiders up 11-1 over USF.

After the game, Tech’s head coach Tim Tadlock spoke of his confidence in Woodcox to be a big hitter after his two home run inning.

“The first swing kind of got us going a little bit in the inning, and probably shocked their gut a little bit, the second swing was off a really good reliever, I'm really proud of that at bat” Tadlock said. “He’s a kid that’s always been able to hit.”

With a nine run lead, Tech brought in freshman Hayde Key for Birdsell in the top of the sixth. Key had only given up two runs in his young career when entered the game against USF, but would give up three runs on four consecutive base runners in his first and only inning of the game, shortening Tech’s lead from 11-1 to 11-4.

USF would also make a pitching change in the sixth inning, bringing in freshman LHP Caleb Pundsack and ending Stuart’s day with a walk, three hits, and two runs in only 20 total pitches.

Pundsack wouldn't allow a hit in his first, striking out two batters while only walking one, keeping the Red Raiders scoreless in the sixth inning.

The next Red Raider pitcher to see action on the mound was freshman RHP Chase Hampton who entered the game in the top of the seventh. Hampton is usually a midweek starter, but has been working out of the bullpen since his last start against Gonzaga on March 10 when he threw for a career high four innings.

Hampton didn't allow a hit in the seventh, but did not record a strikeout either. The highlight of the seventh inning however was a collision between Carter and Neuse in the outfield trying to field a fly ball that resulted in a stellar catch by Carter that ended the inning.

“It was driven pretty well on the fap and you could tell me and Neuse had a little communication,” Carter said of the catch, “I’m just glad one of us came down with it and everyone’s okay.”

Neuse started the bottom of the seventh with a walk, and after a Conley pop up Baker doubled to left field, scoring Neuse and improving the score to 12-4. Wilson brought Baker home later in the inning with a triple down the right field line. 

Sophomore infielder/catcher Cole Stilwell saw his first action of the day in the next at bat when he pinch-hit for Fulford, and hit a home run on his first pitch of the day. The seventh inning would come to a close in the next at bat however, as Carter would ground out to first for the third out.

Hampton’s day came to a close after only one inning, with freshman LHP Brady Lejuene-DeAcutis being the third reliever of the day to see some action after the first two only pitched one inning. 

Lejuene-DeAcutis didn’t fare as well as the pitchers before him however, as he walked his first batter, gave up a single to his second batter, threw a wild pitch that advanced both, and then gave up a two-run RBI single to USF’s Gonzalez all before getting his first out.

After getting his first strikeout of the day, Lejuene-DeAcutis was pulled mid-inning for freshman RHP Josh Sanders. Sanders had only seen two innings of action before the game against USF, both of which coming in a game against UConn on March 15 in which he recorded one strikeout, one walk, one hit, and one run.

Sanders ended the top of the eighth after only two batters, getting USF’s Sullivan to foul out on a 2-1 count and followed by getting USF’s pinch hitter Monque to ground out to second.

In the bottom of the eighth, Tech started to get some bench players some action. Sophomore outfielder Max Murasak pinch hit for Neuse but grounded out into a double play, and junior infielder Parker Kelly pinch hit for Baker but grounded out to end the inning.

The last reliever of the game for Tech was freshman RHP Tyler Hamilton, who started the bottom of the ninth by forcing a line-out to second baseman Jung and then a ground out that he fielded himself and then made the out at first. 

Hamilton then walked two straight, earning a mound visit, but responded well by striking out the next batter and ending the game. 

The Red Raiders improved to 17-4 with the 16-6 win over USF win, and still have two more games remaining in the three game weekend series. The win was Tech’s 17th of their last 18 games, and won largely in part due to an impressive batting day that included both of Drew Woodcox’s first home runs in the same inning.

The next game against USF is set to take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday and the final game of the weekend series is set for 1 p.m. on Sunday. Both games will take place at Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park and be televised on ESPN+ as well as radio broadcasted on Texas Tech Sports Network.

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