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Baseball: They call me the fireman

Profile image for By Adam Boedeker / Staff Writer
By Adam Boedeker / Staff Writer

Lake Dallas product Drozd emerges as Red Raider closer

Jonny Drozd found his spot on the Texas Tech roster by being able to do a little bit of everything as a versatile pitcher for second-year head coach Tim Tadlock.

Last season, after transferring from Grayson College, Drozd made 10 starts for the Red Raiders and five relief appearances after he’d started for the Vikings and at Lake Dallas as a high school star.

Prior to this season, Tadlock and Tech pitching coach Ray Hayward approached Drozd about moving to the bullpen full time. He accepted without much hesitation, and last weekend saw the move come full circle.

Drozd had pitched in pressure situations before, but never had been a part of anything like last Sunday when he was on the mound for scoreless eighth and ninth innings to close out College of Charleston and send Tech to its first College World Series. Drozd earned a save in each of the Red Raiders’ two super regional wins, giving him five saves on the season.

“It was surreal,” Drozd said. “When I came out in both games and the stands were just packed with fans that support us the way they do, it was unbelievable. It was absolutely phenomenal. I still have goose bumps just thinking about that. It was an awesome experience.”

Drozd’s journey into Texas Tech lore last weekend wasn’t a simple one.

The 6-7 lefty with a peculiar arm slot was a star at Lake Dallas and originally signed to pitch at Texas-Arlington, where he attended school for one semester before realizing how difficult it was to juggle baseball and a demanding graphic design degree program.

That’s when he made the decision to transfer to Grayson and play for Dusty Hart, a Tadlock disciple. For the Vikings, Drozd went 9-4 with a 2.32 ERA in 15 appearances (14 starts) and tossed two complete games. After Tadlock wound up in Lubbock, Drozd’s next stop was a no-brainer.

“I’d heard stories that they were so much alike,” Drozd said of Tadlock and Hart. “As soon as I got here, I realized it. Everything is exactly the same almost. It made it a really easy transition.”

Drozd has become the Red Raiders’ de facto closer — netting two of his five saves and picking up a win in the Red Raiders’ first postseason appearance since 2004 and the first super regional in program history.

The Red Raiders’ staff boasts a nation-best 0.65 ERA in six postseason games.

No. 7 Texas Tech (45-19) begins its College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, at 2 p.m. Sunday when it faces Big 12 rival No. 3 TCU (47-16). If there happens to be a save situation, it would be hard to imagine Tadlock turning to anyone other than Drozd.

“He has been a guy whom we could go to anytime we needed outs,” said Tadlock, a Denton native. “We have pitched him in long relief and short relief. He closed this last weekend. He has just done a great job with whatever role we have given him.”

While Tadlock might leave the door open to other arms, the team’s No. 1 starter says Drozd has seized the ninth-inning role.

“I feel like he has been the closest thing to that role that we have,” Chris Sadberry said. “Anytime we put him in, the other team’s going to have a really tough time getting anything going off him. He’s been really big for us all year.”

Drozd has put up solid numbers as a senior, going 7-0 with a 2.00 ERA in 72 innings.

If anyone knows how much trust Hayward and Tadlock have in their senior lefty, it’s Sadberry. In last Saturday’s Game 1 win in the Red Raiders’ super regional against College of Charleston, Sadberry cruised through eight scoreless innings and had thrown 100 pitches with his team clinging to a 1-0 lead.

Like any starting pitcher would, he wanted back out for the ninth, but watched from the dugout instead as Drozd picked up his first of two super regional saves.

“Really not a lot,” Sadberry said when asked if he was nervous. “I do have a lot of trust in him and the guys behind him making plays. They knew it was a huge inning and we’d have to get them out quick and not let anything get going. I was maybe sweating a little bit, but Jonny struck out that first guy and it went straight on from there. It was a quick 1-2-3 inning, so I didn’t have much time to get too nervous.”

Drozd’s former high school coach wasn’t surprised to see his success in Lubbock last weekend.

“Some guys are big-game pitchers,” Lake Dallas head coach John Tompkins said. “They feed off that intensity. I’m real proud of him. He’s a great young man. I’m really excited for him and what he and the program have been able to accomplish by going to the College World Series. To me, that’s the pinnacle of baseball.”

Drozd’s new role has ensured that he can pitch in more games. In theory, that means more big games, and he likes it that way. Now, he’ll close his college career on the biggest stage possible.

“I’d like to think so,” Drozd said of now being the team’s go-to closer after last weekend. “It took me awhile to get used to, especially at the start of the season. I just accepted the role, and it’s turned out pretty well so far.”

ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.