1996 Season In Review
The Class of 1996 may forever be the class to which all others are compared.
Just consider: The Class of '96 posted 183 wins over the four years. This might be just the place to mention that Red Raider teams from 1926 through 1969 won a grand total of 168 games. The decade of the 1990s has been Tech's most successful and the Class of '96 is responsible for much of that.
Tech's season ended with a 1-2 punch, as they hosted the final Southwest Conference Post-Season Tournament May 15-18 and then hosted the their first Regional May 23-26.
The tradeoff for hosting one of the toughest regional fields in the NCAA Tournament were two record crowds in four days and bright dreams for the future.
After 5,212 fans showed up on opening night of the NCAA Central II Regional Tournament, even more fans jammed Dan Law Field on the final day of the regional for Tech's 13-10 loss to No. 1-ranked Southern Cal in the elimiantion bracket final.
"I think that's the best baseball climate I've ever seen in Lubbock, "Texas Tech head coach Larry Hays said following the contest. "I know all the players felt that way. I know USC felt that way. It kind of excites me that we put that potential into reality."
Dan Law Field is suppose to seat 5,614, but an announced crowd of 5,814 saw Tom Seaver's and Mark McGwire's old school overcome deficits of 6-4, 7-6, and 10-7 to beat Tech in 11 innings. Three Tech crowds topped 4,800.
"I think this shows our potential, and it shows this could be an intimidating baseball program from the standpoint of what our crowd can do." Hays said. "It's been gradually building all the way through.
"I felt like the lasttwo or three years our crowds have been big factors for us. And we're getting more and more people who are sticking with us all the way through and not just key games."
Tech's regional was top-heavy with tradition. USC, Fresno State and eventual champion Oklahoma State have made at least 25 regional apperances each. That led to the Central II sending the only non No. 1 seed to Omaha, Neb., for the College World series.
And while the Raiders failed to survive that competition, the theater proved worthwhile for former athletic director Bob Bockrath, who put forth the necessary bid to host the regional.
"I felt like Florida and Alabama had cakewalks in comparison to what the other regionals were," Hays said. "But I hope what happened here is just the beginning. I hope it's the birth of bigger and better things and not just a we-did-it-one-time deal."
There was unseasonably hot weather, high winds, dust and enough rain for one postponement, but Hays doubts weather would override dollars big for future regionals.
Tech fans will long remember that bottom of the 11th inning, with their Raiders leading 10-7 with two outs.
Jimmy Frush, who pitched the final three frames, got the first at-bat -- and,consequently, the fisrt hit, run scored, and RBI -- by a Tech pitcher since the designated hitter rule came into existance in 1972.
All that took place in the top of 11th inning. And with two outs in the bottom of the frame, Tech fans were jousting in line for the next day, but Frush couldn't get the final out.
With shortstop Dion Ruecker on the sidelines with an injury, forcing two others to play out of their normal position, Tech fans can only wonder what if ...
Nine Raiders were drafted by the professional ranks, with only underclassmen Jeff Peck and Frush declining to play for pay.
The Raiders led 18 indivdiual categories in the final Southwest Conference go-around.
Clint Bryant, for the second consecutive year, was among three finalist for the Smith Award, given to the nation's most outstanding baseball player. Although Bryant didn't capture the award, he secured the most fan votes.
Seven Raiders were drafted or signed professional contracts during the summer, an all-time high.