On a night when a capacity crowd at Rip Griffin Park was as juiced up as perhaps any crowd in the park’s history, it was one of the Red Raiders’ more zen players who stole the show in Saturday night’s 7-2 win over North Carolina to put his Texas Tech baseball team just one win away from advancing to the Super Regionals.
As the unquestioned ace of the Texas Tech bullpen, Ryan Sublette is accustomed to pitching in high-leverage situations. Thus, he was the perfect man to turn to when the Tar Heels looked to be primed to steal the momentum after coming just inches from stealing the lead.
With the Red Raiders leading 3-2 in the bottom of the 6th, UNC would put the equalizing run on third base after third baseman Mac Horvath lined a ball off of the very top of the left-field wall. On the play, which was reviewed to see the ball had cleared the fence or not, Horvath was gunned down as he tried to take second base. However, right fielder Caleb Roberts was able to advance to third putting him 90 feet away from knotting the game with only one out.
That play would spell the end of the night for Texas Tech starter Patrick Monteverde. The senior, who was making his first NCAA Tournament start, was solid on the evening going 5.1 innings and allowing just two runs on six hits while striking out seven hitters.
But to get out of the jam that the Monteverde created in the 6th, head coach Tim Tadlock turned to his top reliever Sublette. All the righty did was strike out the next two hitters to quell the Tar Heel uprising and send the Lubbock crows of over 4,700 fans into hysterics.
Sublette’s night was far from over though. In fact, he would remain in the game for the duration to pick up a 3.2-inning save while time and again stepping off the mound to take huge breaths to calm himself down before delivering nasty 95-mph heat.
Allowing no hits, no runs, and only two walks, Sublette struck out a career-high eight hitters to pick up his third save of the season. It was the most strikeouts by a Texas Tech reliever since Steve Rowe had nine in 2002.
At the plate, the long-ball once again was a factor for the homer-happy Red Raiders. In fact, second baseman Jace Jung would open the scoring in the top of the first with a two-run shot that sliced through the incoming southern wind to barely clear the right-center wall.
It was Jung’s 21st dinger on the season, a new record for a Texas Tech player since the NCAA went to the BBCOR bats in 2011. He also now stands at No. 3 all-time on the school’s single-season homer list.
In the 7th, immediately after Sublette worked out of the game-defining jam, Kurt Wilson would hit an opposite-field homer off of the right-field foul pole to push the lead to 4-2. It was part of a big night for the outfielder who went 2-4 with 3 RBI and a run scored. In the 8th inning, he would single to drive home two more runs to push Tech’s lead to its final margin of 7-2.
Since returning to the lineup following a broken thumb, Wilson has had an extra-base hit in each of Tech’s two games in the Lubbock Regional. And given Wilson’s propensity for coming up big in the postseason, there’s reason to believe that his bat could be a key to helping elevate the back half of the Red Raider batting order.
Tech now finds itself one win away from advancing to the Super Regional round of the NCAA Tournament which is the final step before the College World Series. Tonight, Tadlock’s squad will face the winner of this afternoon’s game between UNC and UCLA with an opportunity to sweep through the regional round for the second-straight time after also doing so in 2019.
It should be another raucous night at Dan Law Field as Red Raider baseball fans try to push their team through to the next round. Hopefully, another Red Raider is able to rise to the occasion the way Sublette did on Saturday.