(Part 5 of an eight-part series previewing the College World Series)
Nobody outside of Lubbock, Texas (and, truthfully, probably only a handful of people there) expected Texas Tech to be in the College World Series.
In defense of the doubters, there was little reason to acknowledge the Red Raiders as a national power. Coming off of a 26-30 campaign in 2013, the Red Raiders had never won a Regional, let alone a Super Regional, prior to this season.
Under second-year coach Tim Tadlock, the resilient Red Raiders (45-19) have posted 17 come-from-behind wins en route to a 19-victory improvement over last year.
Pitching has carried Texas Tech to its first CWS berth as the staff has posted four shutouts in six NCAA Tournament games. Riding a 27 scoreless innings streak, the Red Raiders blanked Miami 4-0 in the Coral Gables Regional championship game, followed by consecutive 1-0 decisions over College of Charleston in the Lubbock Super Regional.
Allowing two or fewer runs in 29 games, the Red Raiders have a 3.17 team earned run average.
Texas Tech's starters haven't allowed a run in the past 36 innings.
Senior lefthander Chris Sadberry (5-3, 3.17), a sixth-round pick of the Miami Marlins, was the first of four Red Raiders selected in last week's Major League Draft. Sadberry allowed four hits and struck out a career-high eight batters in eight innings in Game 1 of the Super Regional.
Freshman lefthander Dylan Dusek (8-0, 1.94) combined with three relievers to shutout College of Charleston in Game 2 of the Super Regional as the Red Raiders secured a reservation to Omaha. It was the seventh scoreless start for Dusek, who hasn't allowed a run over the past 23 2/3 innings, dating back to April 27.
Junior lefthander Cameron Smith (8-2, 2.81) is the Red Raiders' third starter.
Fifteen relievers have contributed to a bullpen which has posted a 25-6 record and 16 saves. Senior lefthander Jonny Drozd (7-0, 2.00, 5 saves) is the linchpin of the group.
Sophomore first baseman Eric Gutierrez and senior designated hitter Adam Kirsch spearhead a lineup which has produced a Big 12-Conference best .287 team batting average.
Guitierrez is hitting .312 while leading the club with a .557 slugging percentage, 12 home runs, 58 RBI and 46 runs scored.
Kirsch, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, has a .300 batting average, a .553 slugging percentage, 10 home runs, 21 doubles and 51 RBI.
Freshman right fielder Stephen Smith is batting .282 with a .414 on base rate and 41 runs scored from the leadoff slot.
Among the other Red Raiders to watch are sophomore left fielder Tyler Neslony (.388 batting average, 4 home runs, 32 RBI), junior shortstop Tim Proudfoot (.317, 19 RBI) and junior second baseman Bryant Burleson (.275-2-37).
Texas Tech will face Big 12 rival TCU on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the first round. Four regular season games resulted in a split.