In the biggest game of the season, to date, Tim Tadlock elected to go with the hot hand.
The ninth-year Texas Tech coach announced Chase Hampton would start against Army in the 11 a.m. Friday opener of the NCAA Lubbock Regional at Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park.
The other contest pits North Carolina (27-25) and UCLA (35-18), which is slated to start at 6 p.m.
“Chase threw the ball awful well when we want up to Amarillo against a really good team (Oklahoma in a neutral-site contest),” Tadlock said. “Threw the ball really well against Kansas and then got a little bit of work last week (in the Big 12 Tournament). Just feel like he’s in a good spot to take the ball tomorrow (Friday).”
The freshman right-handed hurler has been, “throwing the ball pretty good,” according to Tadlock and has a solid assortment of pitches to help him against the Black Knights lineup.
Hampton has been tossing the ball well, as of late, using his fastball — which has topped off around 96 miles-per-hour this season — to go along with his off-speed and breaking ball.
In the last 15 2/3 innings, the Kilgore, Texas native has struck out 12, allowed 10 hits and three runs.
The highlight of that stretch came on Texas Tech’s designated Senior Day when he struck out a season-high seven and allowed two hits in six innings. His offense — led by Nate Rombach and Cal Conley home runs — aided the Red Raiders in a 5-0 win to allow lone senior Connor Queen to end his season on a high note with a triumph over the Jayhawks.
“If you’re starting a guy in a postseason game or you’re starting a guy in a college baseball game, and you care about their arm, you probably have a pitch count,” Tadlock said of what to expect from Hampton. “He’s not going to go out and throw 150 pitches.”
The Black Knights (28-23), who are back in Lubbock for their second consecutive NCAA postseason after going 0-2 in the 2019 Lubbock Regional, will test the Red Raiders on the defensive side.
“More than anything, just respect the challenge of each day and know that you’re going to play a good opponent,” Tadlock said of the message going into the Lubbock Regional to his team. “The challenge of playing baseball at a high level each day is enough in itself. Showing up and doing that.”
Army may lack in the hitting department but makes up for it in other ways.
Left-handed pitcher Connelly Early touts the best ERA in the Lubbock Regional. Pitching mostly in relief, he has notched 36 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings and a touts a .171 opponents batting average.
Army doesn’t show much power at the plate with Nick Manesis leading the way with five homers this season. In fact the top five home-run hitters, Manesis, Ross Friedrick (four HRs), Sam Ruta (four HRs), Anthony Giachin (three HRs) and Cam Cerruto (three HRs) have combined for 20.
Texas Tech’s Jace Jung, who was named the Big 12 Player of the Year, has hit 20 homers by himself to go along with 65 RBI.
Ruta and Giachin lead the Black Knights with 36 and 32 runs batted in, respectively. While Army has stolen 76 bases in 51 games this season — led by Giachin with eight.
“Obviously, lot of tough guys on their side,” Tadlock said of Army. “Have really good, tough at-bats, play good defense. Definitely play the game the right way. They’re an aggressive team, probably bunt the ball as much as anybody we’ve seen. … Some older guys, very mature group.”
That group will be looking to secure its first win against the Red Raiders in postseason play. In the first two meetings, the Black Knights have been outscored 27-4 and know they must keep the down against a potent Red Raider lineup.
That includes Jung, shortstop Cal Conley (.337, 13 HRs, 52 RBI), catcher Braxton Fulford (.273, 13 HRs, 41 RBI) and left fielder Dru Baker (.372, four HRs, 32 RBI). Infielder/catcher Nate Rombach (.220, eight HRs, 31 RBI) has gone 7-for-15 with three homers and 12 RBI in the last five contests.
Jung (first team) and Conley (second team) were named All-Americans by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper on Thursday.
Army head coach Jim Foster said he would start pitcher Anthony LoRicco against Texas Tech on Friday. LoRicco owns a 4-1 record and 4.68 ERA in 10 starts and 50 innings pitched.
More so, the junior right-handed hurler threw 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief against the Red Raiders back in 2019.
“Nothing’s been easy, but we’ve been able to put good games together,” said Army infielder Tim Simoes, who is also a second lieutenant and driven in 21 runs. “And we fight hard. It’s never over till it’s over. That’s been the story of the season and our playoff run.”
NO. 7 TEXAS TECH VS. ARMY
What: Lubbock NCAA Regional
When: 11 a.m. Friday
Where: Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park
Records: Texas Tech 36-15. Army 28-23
Radio: FM 97.3
Twitter updates: Follow @cmsilvajr and @AJ_DonWilliams
Notable: Texas Tech has outscored Army 27-4 in the two prior meetings between the squads. … The NCAA Lubbock Regional sold out Thursday afternoon.
NCAA LUBBOCK REGIONAL SCHEDULE
Game 7 – (if needed) – Same teams from Game 6