LUBBOCK, Texas - Coming off its second-consecutive trip to the postseason, Texas Tech opens the 2012 season just as it did a year ago - at the Arizona State Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. where the Red Raiders will face San Diego State, Northwestern, No. 9/14 Tennessee, No. 10/9 Stanford, and Cal Poly over the three-day event that begins Thursday at the Tempe Sports Complex.
Thursday, February 9 - Saturday, February 11, 2012
TECH IN SEASON OPENERS
The Red Raiders have opened the year with a win in each of their last three season openers, pulling Tech to an 8-8 all-time record since softball returned as an intercollegiate sport in 1996. Tech rallied from an early deficit last season to defeat then-No. 16 BYU, 7-5, in nine innings. The Red Raiders defeated Wisconsin, 5-2, to open the 2010 season and Central Florida, 12-4, in 2009.
San Diego State - Thursday's season opener will mark the 10th overall meeting between the two schools with Tech holding a 6-3 advantage. The two schools last met on Feb. 14, 2010, when Tech took a 6-1 victory in the finale of the ASU Kajikawa Classic. The Red Raiders are 3-1 all-time when facing the Aztecs at a neutral site.
Northwestern - The meeting will be the fifth all-time between the two school who have not faced each other since Northwestern took a 3-2 victory on March 2, 2007 to even the series. The Wildcats have won each of the last two meetings in a series where all four games have been played at neutral sites.
Tennessee - The Red Raiders will be facing Tennessee for only the third time in program history Friday with the Lady Vols winning each of the first two meetings. Tennessee dropped Tech, 4-0, on March 4, 2006, during the Fullerton Worth Tournament and then claimed a 3-0 victory on Feb. 15, 1997 during the UT-Arlington Tournament.
Stanford - Tech and Stanford will be meeting for the 14th time in history with the Cardinal controlling a commanding 12-1 lead in the series. Tech's lone win in the series came on May 22, 2010 in an elimination game of the NCAA Stanford Regional. Tech won that game 6-3 behind a strong offensive performance where the Red Raiders scored five runs in the first two innings. Tech is 0-9 all-time when facing Stanford at a neutral site.
Cal Poly - The meeting will be the third all-time between the two schools and the first since Cal Poly defeated the Red Raiders, 4-2, on March 4, 2007, during the Fullerton Worth Tournament. The Mustangs won the earlier matchup, 2-0, on March 9, 2000 during the Bulldog Classic in Fresno, Calif.
Texas Tech returns to the road next weekend to take part in the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic held in Las Vegas. The Red Raiders will take on Ohio State, Long Beach State, Idaho State, Portland State, DePaul, and Utah State in the three-day event that begins Feb. 17.
TECH VERSUS RANKED OPPONENTS
The Red Raiders are a perfect 3-0 over the last two seasons when facing a ranked opponent during a non-conference tournament. Tech defeated No. 19 Florida State, 2-1, in 2010 during the USF The Game Tournament then downed No. 16 BYU, 7-5, and No. 12 California, 5-4, during last year's Kajikawa Classic. The Red Raiders are 9-23 against ranked opponents during Shanon Hays' two seasons.
TECH PICKS UP VOTES IN PRESEASON POLLS
For the second-straight season, Texas Tech will start the season receiving votes in both the USA Today/NFCA and the ESPN/USA Softball preseason polls. The Red Raiders picked up five votes in the NFCA poll and then six in the ESPN rankings. One of seven Big 12 schools appearing in the polls, Tech will face a total of 14 teams this season that are ranked or receiving votes in the preseason rankings.
TECH BOASTS SUCCESS AT THE KAJIKAWA
For the fifth time in the last six seasons, the Red Raiders will open the season in the desert with the Arizona State Kajikawa Classic. Despite facing several of the nation's top teams, Tech has posted a 14-5 record in four appearances, including a 9-1 mark under Shanon Hays. Tech's 2011 squad went a perfect 5-0 at the event last season, defeating the likes of No. 16 BYU and No. 12 California en route to becoming the only school to leave the tournament still undefeated.
HALL RETURNS HOME ONE FINAL TIME Logan Hall will be returning to her home state this weekend for possibly the last time as a collegiate softball player. The senior, who hails from Tucson, Ariz., has returned to the state three times since transferring from Yuma Community College prior to the 2010 season. Tech begun each of the last two seasons at the Kajikawa Classic and was selected to the NCAA Tucson Regional last year in her hometown. The Red Raiders are 11-3 over the last two seasons when playing in the state of Arizona.
RED RAIDERS FACE CHALLENGE IN THE DESERT
The Red Raiders will have a tough task at hand this weekend as four of their five opponents are ranked or receiving votes in the preseason rankings. Stanford leads the pack after being ranked No. 9 by the NFCA and No. 10 by ESPN.com, while Tennessee is No. 14 in the NFCA poll and No. 9 in the ESPN rankings. San Diego State is receiving votes in both polls while Northwestern picked up two votes in the ESPN rankings. Tennessee, Stanford, and San Diego State were all selected to a NCAA Regional last year with the Lady Vols and Cardinal eventually advancing to the Super Regionals.
RED RAIDERS RETURN 15 PLAYERS FROM 2011
With 15 returners back from its 2011 squad, Tech could be primed for another breakout season in 2012. Of those 15 returners, eight were position starters a year ago while Tech's top two pitchers, senior Kelsey Dennis and sophomore Brittany Talley, also return in the circle. The Red Raiders had no seniors on their roster last year when Tech finished 42-16 overall after falling to Arizona in the finale of the NCAA Tucson Regional.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Immediately following Tech's season-ending loss to Arizona in the NCAA Tucson Regional, head coach Shanon Hays had one message for his young team - to take the next step in 2012. Advancing to the postseason would no longer just be the goal. Knowing the majority of that squad would return this year, he challenged the group to win a regional this season, a feat that has not been accomplished in school history. The Red Raiders have fallen in the regional finale in each of the last two seasons.
TECH BOASTS A RECORD EIGHT SENIORS
After only having a total of two seniors on the roster during his first two seasons, Shanon Hays will have a senior-laden squad for the first time as eight seniors return for their final season in scarlet and black. No Tech team had previously boasted more than six seniors on its roster since softball returned as an intercollegiate sport in 1996. The only two seniors in Hays' tenure were in 2010 when Ashly Jacobs and Leah Legler completed their eligibility. Both are still associated with the program this season with Jacobs filling the role of graduate student manager and Legler as the volunteer assistant coach.
TECH RETURNS ONE OF NATION'S TOP LINEUPS
The majority of last year's lineup that hit .361 and ranked fourth nationally in both batting average and scoring average returns this season as the Red Raiders bring back eight position starters from a year ago. Tech set the Big 12 Conference record last year with its .361 batting average as seven regulars in the lineup hit .300 or better during the season. Raven Richardson led all hitters with a .384 mark followed closely behind by Emily Bledsoe and her .383 average.
BLEDSOE NAMED TO PRESEASON WATCH LIST
Senior Emily Bledsoe was named to the USA Softball Player of the Year Watch List prior to the season, joining 49 players nationwide including 10 from the Big 12 Conference. Bledsoe, a Fulshear, Texas native, hit a career-high .383 as a junior and is already a fixture in the school's record book. She is the first Tech player to be named to any preseason watch list in school history.
TECH HITS THE ROAD FOR NON-CONFERENCE
After playing the majority of non-conference games at home the past two seasons, the Red Raiders will be hitting the road more often this year with four non-conference tournaments away from home. Following Tech's trip to Tempe this weekend, the Red Raiders will travel to Las Vegas (Feb. 17-19) for the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic, Waco (Feb. 24-26) for the Texas Shootout, and South Orange, N.J. (March 16-18) for the Seton Hall Classic.
HAYS SIX WINS SHY OF 200 Shanon Hays enters the 2012 season just six wins why of reaching the 200 win plateau for his career that began at nearby Lubbock Christian in 2008. The Tech head coach is 194-50 over four seasons and 80-34 during his two seasons in the Red Raider dugout. He is just 15 wins shy of becoming the second-winningest head coach in school history, trailing only Renee Luers-Gillespie, who was 138-159-1 during her five seasons since resuming the Tech program in 1996.
PENCIL BLEDSOE IN THE LINEUP
During Cal Ripken, Jr.'s historic stretch with the Baltimore Orioles, he earned the iconic nickname "Iron Man" after breaking the major league record for 2,632 consecutive games played. While not nearing Ripken's mark, Emily Bledsoe has impressed many not just for her glove or bat but for her toughness as well as the Fulshear, Texas native has started in all 171 games since her freshman season in 2009. Already a regular in the Tech record book, the senior will likely enter the top 10 for career games played midway through the season.
HAYS LOOKS TO CUSTER FOR BOOST IN CIRCLE
When pitching coach Aly Sartini was out recruiting the Las Vegas area in the summer of 2010, she sat in by chance on the Washington Lady Hawks travel team where this young right-hander with great velocity and good movement was retiring hitters left and right. Sartini along with Shanon Hays immediately began recruiting that right-hander, current freshman Cara Custer, early and secured her commitment before several of the top programs across the country came calling. Now, the Tech coaching staff is expecting the Spanaway, Wash. native to be a dominating presence in the circle for a Tech pitching staff that had a 3.50 ERA a year ago.
RED RAIDERS ADD JUCO CATCHER OF THE YEAR
Tech continued to add hitters in the offseason with the signing of two-time California JUCO Catcher of the Year Adriana Perez. One of the top junior college prospects in the country last year, Perez is expected to bolster an already-deep catcher staff that consists of seniors Holley Gentsch and Cydney Allen along with junior Randi Tongate. Perez hit over .500 in each of her two seasons at Antelope Valley College in California, totaling 31 home runs and 117 RBI during that two year stretch.
RYBA RETURNS TO DIAMOND AFTER YEAR OFF Melisa Ryba will be returning to the softball diamond for the first time since the 2010 season this weekend as the redshirt junior sat out the 2011 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Ryba, who could play varies positions for Tech, transferred from Northern Colorado after hitting .323 as a sophomore with seven home runs and 32 RBI. She was named an All-Independent Co-Freshman of the Year in 2009 before Northern Colorado joined the Pacific Coast Softball Conference in 2010 when she was a second team PCSC All-Mountain selection.
TECH PICKED 7TH IN BIG 12 PRESEASON POLL
Even with lofty expectations and the majority of its 2011 squad back for another season, Texas Tech was picked seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll of conference coaches. The league is coming off a record year where eight teams (of 10) advanced to the postseason with four of those eventually composing the eight-team Women's College World Series. Missouri was the preseason favorite to take the league title followed by Oklahoma and then Texas.
BIG 12 PLAY TURNS TO THREE-GAME SERIES
For the first time in Big 12 history, all conference series will be three games each. The league had previously gone with a two-game format and a postseason conference tournament until the 2011 season when the tournament was cut. There will be a total of 24 conference games, six more than the 2010 season. With the departure of Nebraska, the league is a nine-team conference as Kansas State does not sponsor softball.