The Red Raiders travel to Fort Worth this weekend, with a lot at stake. Currently in first place in the Big XII, Texas Tech baseball has a chance to all but salt away the conference title with a series win at Lupton, while the Frogs are clinging to a slim chance of taking the title outright if they can escape with a win. We sat down with Hunter Cooke of Viva the Matadors to discuss baseball, football, and whatever else came to mind.
TCU and Tech had pretty much separated themselves from the pack when it came to baseball this season, and then last weekend happened. Both of these teams had been playing great baseball, but come into the weekend licking their wounds after being embarrassed by Oklahoma State and Texas, respectively. Did you learn anything new about Tech baseball from that series, or was it an aberration for a really good team?
First of all Melissa, I’m disappointed that this isn’t titled "The Wreckoning". Solid pun chance missed. (editor’s note: you’re right. I let the whole team down)
I definitely think it’s an aberration. I mean, this is the same Texas Tech team that swept Oklahoma State. Getting run ruled in a rubber match by Texas is surely not good, but in baseball it also comes with the territory. The main thing we learned is that we’re not invincible, and I think that will pay dividends for us down the line. We have a great mix of ages on our team, and they’ve all been gelling together very well. I mean, this was the first weekend season they’ve lost in conference, and it was the first time we’ve lost a game on the weekends in this entire month. We have a couple of chances against ACU to right the ship, and I think we’ll come into this weekend series firing on all cylinders.
TCU was an early season favorite, though people that follow the team closely realized just how young the squad was. On the other hand, Tech, after a down year in 2015, was expected to be a middle of the pack squad by outsiders, but has proven themselves to be quite possibly the most complete team in the conference. What did people miss on to underrate them so much, or what/who has been the surprise that has raised them to a postseason contender?
Our freshman pitching has definitely been a surprise. We knew what we were getting with Gute, Nelsony, and Smith, but young guys like Davis Martin have stepped up big. I mean, the kid’s on the watch list for national pitcher of the year. As a freshman. That’s pretty obscene. For Tech Football & Basketball it’s been "The Year Of The Sophomore" (Zach Smith, Justin Gray, Norense Odiase, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Stockton, etc). We’ve just had a bunch of young guys step up big in key places, and baseball is the same way. Except they’re freshmen.
Overall, I can’t really say what exactly it’s been. It’s a complete team effort that’s gotten us to this point. We don’t have any huge superstars, just a group of guys that play extremely well together.
It’s always great to see the whole team contribute, but baseball is probably the most individual team sport there is. Who are the guys that have shown brightest in the biggest moments? Martin, who you mentioned, it’s an obvious one, but is there a glue guy or someone slightly under the radar that makes this squad tick?
If I have to pick one, It’s Gute (Eric Gutierrez). He can just do it all. I’m not sure if he’s above or below the radar at this point, but he’s definitely one of the big leaders of this team. I mean, he’s started in 177 straight games, and is holding down a .350 batting average with 7 home runs and 37 RBIs. I’d say that’s definitely solid. Our pitching has improved, but at our core we’re still a big-bat team and Gute leads the charge there.
It’s the ninth inning of a one run game: which guy do you want at the plate with a runner in scoring position? Which pitcher would you want on the mound if TCU is threatening? Is there a guy in the Horned Frogs’ lineup you don’t want to pitch to?
I don’t want anything to do with Luken Baker at any point of any game.
It seems the TCU/Tech baseball rivalry has gotten pretty intense over the past few seasons. Last year, the Frogs went to Lubbock and took two of three, but got pounded in the tourney by the Red Raiders. The year before, TCU got manhandled in two of three games in Fort Worth after blanking Tech 9-0 to open the series, but came back to win a really salty win in the College World Series. We know how much fun this rivalry is and has been, but what is it about these two baseball programs that makes things get especially nasty?
I think a lot of it has to do with what’s on the line when we play. We know that to win a Big XII title we have to go through y’all, and y’all know that to win a Big XII title you’re going to have to get past us eventually. Our teams know each other really well at this point, and there’s a sense of begrudging respect between the two squads. It’s a rivalry of excellence, and I’m a huge fan of it.
With just Kansas and WVU left on the schedule, a series win would all but lock up the Big 12 regular season championship for Tech. That puts a lot of pressure on a young team, that showed some fissures for the first time all year in Austin. How do you think they’ll handle the pressure? Is there any team that Red Raider fans would take more pleasure in beating to secure a title than TCU right now?
WE LOST IN LUBBOCK AND IT SUCKED
No offense, but for our fanbase at large I think they’d rather beat Texas to secure a title.
I think that if we come in and play our game we have a pretty good chance of beating y’all. There’s sure to be a lot of pressure, and I’m sure there’s going to be some general rowdiness from y’all’s fans, but I think we have enough old heads to be able to counteract a rowdy fanbase. There are still guys on this team who went to the CWS, and I’d hope that they’re hungry to get back.
What’s one thing about Lubbock that you wish all fans outside of the city knew? How about one thing you wish they didn’t?
How great the country music scene is here. Seriously, I can go to just about anywhere in town that has live music and hear some quality music. I’m not a colossal country fan, but I can definitely appreciate good live music. And Lubbock has it aplenty.
Uh, I guess the occasional smell? I can’t hate it too bad though, it’s the smell of money. Lubbock is honestly what you make it. If you come in with your mind made up, your stint here will probably suck. If you come in with an open mind, you’ll have a blast. It’s a pretty fun place.
What’s your prediction for how the series goes?
*puts on Scarlet colored glasses*
*rips open shirt to reveal massive Masked Rider tattoo across my chest*
"GIVE ME TEXAS TECH IN A SWEEP"
In all seriousness, I think we take this either 3-0 or 2-1. We’re playing too well, and it matters too much. I understand that it’s on the road, but after the weekend we just had, a business trip might be exactly what we need. I think we right the ship against ACU and come out with a win in this series. Luken Baker can’t pitch three games in a row, can he? *checks baseball handbook* No, he can’t. I wish y’all the best of luck, just not this weekend.