By Stephen Hawkins
AP Sports Writer
Texas Tech pitcher Davis Martin remembers what he was told when he got to the College World Series as a freshman two years ago, a message the right-hander appreciates much more with another opportunity.
“Enjoy every second of this because you never know if you’re going to come back,” Martin said. “Then we left, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t embrace it enough.’ And then just the blessing to go back again is just unbelievable.”
The Red Raiders (44-18) are going from their Lubbock campus to Omaha for the third time in five seasons. Their CWS opener is Sunday night against defending national champion Florida — the Gators were also the No. 1 national seed in 2016, when they lost to Texas Tech in an elimination game in which Martin pitched seven scoreless innings.
Coach Tim Tadlock hasn’t revealed his CWS pitching plans. Among the potential starters are Martin (7-5, 4.50 ERA), sophomore right-hander Caleb Kilian (9-2, 3.04 ERA) and lefty Dylan Dusek (3-0, 2.03), the fifth-year senior dealing with a blister on his finger and the only player to be on all three of Texas Tech’s CWS teams.
The lone position player still in the lineup from the College World Series two years ago is senior shortstop Michael Davis, then the second baseman and a kid who grew up across the street from the Tech campus.
“Honestly, I almost gave up baseball when I was probably 13 or 14,” Davis said Wednesday. “I went to Lubbock High School, kind of fell in love with it again my freshman year, made varsity, played varsity for four years, and really got back into it. … I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at in my life right now.”
Davis’ 12th homer of the season was a tiebreaking two-run shot that put Texas Tech ahead to stay in their super regional clincher against Duke.
While the Red Raiders didn’t win the Big 12 regular season title this year after being the preseason favorite, or even the conference tournament, they swept through the NCAA Lubbock Regional and got to host their third super regional after Duke upset No. 8 national seed Georgia in the Athens Regional.
Texas Tech lost seven of 10 games late in the regular season. That stretch included losing consecutive Big 12 series at TCU and at home against Texas, the other Big 12 team going to Omaha and in the same bracket as the Red Raiders.
“Really proud of the team,” Davis said. “Battled back and showed up Monday and walked away with it.”
After dropping a pair of one-run games in their first CWS appearance in 2014, including the opener to Big 12 foe TCU, the Red Raiders dropped their 2016 opener in Omaha — another one-run loss to TCU. The victory over Florida followed before being eliminated by national champion Coastal Carolina.
They didn’t get to go back to Omaha last year. Needing to win only one more game in the Lubbock Regional, they instead dropped consecutive one-run games to Sam Houston State.
“It was one of those things that you have such high expectations every year now. When I got here my freshman year, they had just gotten to Omaha,” Davis said. “When you lose the way we did, you’re 2-0 and then you drop the next two in that regional, it hurts.”
During a team meeting Wednesday, Tadlock asked if any of the older guys had anything they wanted to say. Martin told his teammates about one of his 2016 memories — not his seven scoreless innings, but about the kids in the outfield stands during batting practice.
“I think coach Tadlock was expecting something inspirational,” said Martin, who recalled the team going through about three buckets of balls their first day in Omaha two years ago. “I said about 3,000 kids want a ball. … you get one ball to give away.”