End-of-year roundtable: highs and lows, biggest surprises from a wild year in Tech athletics

Texas Tech athletics never fails to produce talking points, whether good, bad or flat-out unbelievable.

We witnessed it all in the 2020-2021 sports season, and now that we’ve made it into summer, we wanted to take some time to reflect on the highs and lows we encountered as Red Raider fans.

What was the high point of the academic calendar year?

Mike Macon: I have to say beating Texas in Austin on the back of Mac’s game winner stands out to me. I grew up a Longhorn fan so I don’t have the usual hate for that school, but there was something special that even with their best team in ages Tech ripped their hearts out in Austin.

Jack Bell: For me, my high point was the Tech baseball team sweeping the Lubbock Regional. Tech had heard all week about how they weren’t good enough to host, then promptly won with no trouble at all.

Kendall Phipps: I believe the high point this year was Mac McClung hitting the game winner against Texas. The moment, the shot, the excitement and the importance of that game just made it that much better of a moment.

Reed Meason: I’ll go a step further from Michael and Kendall and say the season basketball series against Texas in general. They beat us in the Big 12 tournament (not a big deal in the long run), but we swept them in a year where they were considered to “be back” in basketball. Of course the McClung shot in Austin was huge, but also beating them in Lubbock just added to the greatness.

Chris Salazar: The high point for me was the Tech baseball team making it as far as they did this season. Overcoming the injuries that we faced early on and still being able to make it as one of the final 16 teams in the nation was truly amazing.

Zach Mason: Locking up Tim Tadlock for life. He could’ve gone to A&M and thrived, or any number of baseball blue-bloods but instead, he’ll spend his career elevating Texas Tech baseball into a true powerhouse.

Tech’s win over the Longhorns in Austin is as memorable as they come.
Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images

The low point?

MM: Easily the near disasters in football. The Texas loss hurt, but nothing hurt my eyes more than needing luck to neat HBU. Not to be out done, the Kansas game made my soul die worrying we’d drop a second consecutive game to the Jayhawks.

JB: The Texas football game. Just having that lead and giving it up only to lose in overtime was absolutely unbearable to watch.

KP: Tech football. Just watching this past years team was so difficult at times. Whether it was choking the Texas game or getting throttled by OU, this season was a tough watch.

RM: I’ll go ahead and address the elephant in the room and say the departure of Chris Beard. In a coach that we nearly all trusted to stay forever, it was like a knife to the back to see him leave, especially for Austin. In what seemed like a steep drop off for the basketball program, we ended up hiring a proven coach and have added good talent around our core that have helped ease my pain from the situation.

CS: The Texas football game. I remember that day and game so clearly that I’m getting mad just thinking about it. Blowing that lead the way that we did after the amazing day we were having on offense just about summed up how the season was going to go. A close second would be Beard leaving us for Texas.

NCAA Football: Texas at Texas Tech

Pain.
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

ZM: Undoubtedly the departure of Chris Beard. We Tech fans and alumni love to act like we’re better off after a coach leaves us for a bigger school (sometimes we’re right), but that’s not the case here. I think this will have the same effect as Mike Leach’s absence – although under different circumstances – Tech may never return to the level of relevance it enjoyed under Beard.

Biggest surprise?

MM: Everyone is going to say baseball, because what a comeback that was, so I’ll take a different approach. The biggest surprise to me was Zech McPherson working himself into a third-round draft pick. I didn’t have a Tech secondary member getting drafted that high on my bingo card.

JB: Baseball team making it to Supers. This team had more injuries that were impactful than any Tech squad I’ve seen before. Losing Becker, Dobbins, and Brutoski before the season, then losing Birdsell and Neuse, it’s nothing short of a miracle they made it to hosting a Super Regional.

KP: Tech baseball still showing results even with all the injuries. The injuries killed Tech all year and they never stopped fighting, no matter what. This might’ve been Tadlock’s best coaching job to date.

RM: The amount of talent that the football team has brought in. Between freshmen with some bright futures and high-profile transfers such as Tyler Shough and Marquis Waters, this looks to be one of the best seasons in recent memory for that program.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oregon v Iowa State

As high-profile a name as there was at the quarterback position in the transfer portal, Tyler Shough hopes to bring some electricity to Tech’s offense.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

CS: The basketball team’s recruiting success despite Beard’s departure. I knew that we would obviously have to fill the roster spots that were vacant, but the talent that we have been able to bring in is very intriguing and has me excited for this upcoming season.

ZM: I knew Tech wasn’t going to make the College Football Playoff, but starting the year with a 35-33 “victory” against FCS Houston Baptist was a real wake-up call and strong indicator of what would follow. The secondary made Bailey Zappe look like John Elway and the defensive line was completely overmatched against an offensive line half its size. A repeat performance like this against another Southland Conference opponent Stephen F. Austin in 2021 would surely expedite the heating of Matt Wells’s seat.

Favorite win of the year regardless of sport?

MM: That delayed Texas baseball game in Austin. Sublette getting to come back in and just shutting down that game was incredible. Securing that series win solidified Tech’s chances to get a top 8 seed as well.

JB: West Virginia football game. Having such a back-and-forth game only to win on a long fumble recovery returned for a TD by Zech McPherson was awesome. It just added to the McPherson hype that was very much deserved.

KP: As mentioned before, the Tech win at Texas was my favorite win. The importance of the whole game and what it meant for the season, it was truly a season changing shot.

RM: It has to be the Red Raiders win in Austin. Their first road win over an AP top 5 team came at a great time with a superb ending. I’ll remember watching that McClung dagger for a very long time.

CS: I will have to go with the Texas basketball game. Mac McClung looking at Beard and getting the okay to make a play is a moment that I will never forget.

ZM: When Terrence Shannon Jr. and Mac McClung went off for a combined 55 points in a 76-71 win over LSU in Baton Rouge as part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge. Somehow, the Big 12 lost the challenge, but at least we did our part while supposed Big 12 power Kansas got smacked by Tennessee in Lawrence and No. 11 West Virginia lost to unranked Florida in Morgantown. Felt good to be a Red Raider on that day.

Favorite play of the year regardless of sport?

MM: That Colin Schooler hit on the goalline against Baylor. WOW, that was using the hit stick. Just the kind of play that gets me hyped every single time I see it.

JB: Mac McClung hitting the game winning shot in Austin. Huge game, huge shot, and huge moment. It absolutely defined our season and cemented him as a fan favorite.

KP: My favorite play was in the win against Utah State, Clarence Nadolny diving on the floor and getting the ball to Micah Peavy for a jam. That play completely embodies what Tech basketball is all about.

RM: As mentioned above, I loved the McClung shot at UT, but I’m gonna go with the Colin Schooler hit stick on Charlie Brewer. Being on the sideline for that one was a good time. Definitely one of the best form tackles I have ever seen.

CS: The Loic Fouonji catch against Oklahoma State was insane. I loved that catch so much and it made me even more excited for the player that he could become in the future.

ZM: Kirsten Davis’s goal against Texas in the final home game of 2020. The Red Raiders had only won one of their first seven games up to that point in the season, but this glowing strike in the upper-ninety seemed to be the turning point this team needed. Tech closed out the year winning three out of its last four games in the spring, ending the year on an optimistic note.

Utah State v Texas Tech

Mac McClung had no shortage of highlight-reel plays in 2021.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Sport you’re most high about going forward?

MM: Yeah lets go out on a limb and say football. Tech can be really good this season. You all have heard that before for years, but the only reason Tech is so lowly rated is because people aren’t paying attention. The offense is set up to be top-3 in the conference, and the transfers coming in on defense are legit. This could be a nine-win football team if they don’t screw it up.

JB: Baseball. This team made it to supers at about 60% healthy. In the coming weeks we will find out who’s going to the draft and who’s staying. If there is a good group staying (which I believe there will be) this team will be one to watch for to make it to Omaha and possibly get into that National Championship Series. If the roster can stay remotely healthy, the sky is the limit.

KP: Hard not to be looking forward to what Tech baseball can do in the future. Fully healthy next year, they could really make some noise nationally, and that could make the season a fun one.

RM: I’m always very optimistic on Tech sports regardless of their national outlook, so it is hard for me to single one sport in particular out. But I’m going to go with baseball when looking at the program long term. They are built to be successful for the long haul and could have been even better this season had the injury bug not struck them so negatively.

CS: I am looking forward to how this basketball team will look next year. With all of the transfers that we have coming in along with the guys that we have staying, this team has potential to make a run at the Big 12 title. If we can get TSJ to come back as well, my excitement will go through the roof!

ZM: Tech baseball is clearly in the best position going forward, but keep an eye on the women’s basketball team. Krista Gerlich was a tremendous hire, and she walked into a messy situation in her first year on campus with COVID going on and plenty of question marks surrounding the roster. In a few years, this may be one of Tech Athletics’s shining programs.

Krista Gerlich has won everywhere she’s coached. Now, she has a chance to win at her alma mater.

Player you’re most high about going forward?

MM: Tyler Shough will be a top-5 draft pick, book it.

JB: Jace Jung. Becoming the first underclassman to win Big 12 POY and having him returning next year makes for an exciting roster. I’m excited to see Act 2.

KP: Chibuzo Agbo. The shot making, the length, the energy. Agbo has some great potential and it will be amazing to see how he further develops this year.

RM: Erik Ezukanma is poised to have a breakout season. With TJ Vasher gone, he is the clear-cut No. 1 target for the Red Raiders and should help Tyler Shough settle in more smoothly. Though he suffered a broken arm in the spring, I believe the signs are good that he’ll be ready to go week one or pretty soon after.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 07 Texas Tech at TCU

Will this season be a breakout moment for Erik Ezukanma?
Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

CS: Really looking forward to seeing both Marquis Waters and Eric Monroe at the safety positions for this defense. I think that they might be one of the best duos in college football and by the time the season ends their draft stocks could both sky rocket with some stellar performances.

ZM: I firmly believe Jace Jung can be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. He’s the best hitter in all of college baseball, and while he’s a good college third-baseman, most scouts project him to slide over to second in the big leagues where he could be an above-average defender. In the meantime, we’ll take his .330 average and 20+ homers on our way to another College World Series appearance.


What were your thoughts on this past year in Tech athletics? Feel free to add your answers to any of the questions we addressed in the comments section below.

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