COLLEGE BASEBALL: Queen continues growth with Red Raiders

LUBBOCK Connor Queen has been part of some very successful teams during his three seasons of college baseball, starting with his freshman season at Odessa College in 2017 and continuing the last two years at Texas Tech.

One common factor the programs share, Queen said, is the way head coaches Kurtis Lay of Odessa College and Tim Tadlock of Texas Tech run their programs.

“I feel like Coach Lay and Tadlock coach the same way,” Queen said Thursday as the Red Raiders prepared to take on Oklahoma State in the Lubbock Super Regional. “I feel like Lay taught me a lot to help me get ready for the next level.”

After earning all-state honors at Boerne, Queen played helped the Wranglers to a 46-13 record, the WJCAC championship and a third-place finish in the NJCAA Region V tournament in 2017. As a pitcher, Queen went 10-1 with a 5.18 ERA in 13 appearances, including 10 starts, with 78 strikeouts in 73 innings to earn all-conference honors.

Queen appeared in 30 games overall for the Wranglers, batting .250 with seven doubles and seven RBIs in addition to his pitching workload.

That was enough to earn an offer from the Red Raiders.

“When we evaluated Connor when he was down at Odessa, we felt like he’d get right-handed hitters out right away,” Tadlock said. “I really felt like it wasn’t going to be an issue. He can go right and left now. He can get right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters. His slider is really good.

“He’s a guy that played some infield as a junior college guy, also.”

As a sophomore for the Red Raiders in 2018, Queen made 18 appearances on the mound, going 1-0 with a 4.20 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 30 innings. He pitched five innings in relief without allowing an earned run during Texas Tech’s run through the NCAA Tournament and appeared in one game at the College World series.

This season, Queen is 4-0 with a 0.64 ERA in nine appearances, striking out seven over 14 innings heading into the Red Raiders’ series with Oklahoma State at the Lubbock Super Regional.

Queen said playing for Lay in the WJCAC gave him a solid foundation for when he transferred to Texas Tech, where he is one of just seven junior-college transfers.

“It wasn’t much of a transition,” Queen said. “I just had to go out there and take care of business. I’ve had to deal with some adversity here and there, but I’ve just learned to stay within myself.

“Coming here and competing has been a very humbling experience for me. I had some issues with myself with my mechanics and got out of line, but I feel like I’ve started to put that together recently. That’s been one of the biggest things.”

In Saturday’s Game 2, a 6-5 Oklahoma State victory, Queen came on in the seventh inning of a 3-3 tie and struck out the side on 14 pitches. He was briefly in line for the win as the Red Raiders took the lead in the top of the eighth only to have the Cowboys come back to regain the lead in the bottom of the inning.

Tadlock said Queen has gained better command of his fastball and improved his arm strength over the past two seasons.

“He’s been in a program and he’s played catch with guys with probably more arm strength than him, and it’s kind of the big brother effect,” Tadlock said. “I mean, it’s one of those deals where you play catch with somebody that throws 94, eventually your arm is going to get stronger, especially over a couple of years, and you’ve seen that. He came in as a guy that was 88, 89 for the most part, and he’s touched some 4s and maybe even 5s at this point. The slider is 84, 85 some days.

“And so that’s been really fun. That’s a natural progression if you’ve got guys around you with arm strength. And you see that with a bunch of our guys. That’s why you see a whole bunch of them down there that have really good arms. It’s not any magic formula other than, like I said, you’re playing catch with somebody that’s stronger than you, so you’ve got a really good opportunity each day to try to match that guy, and over time, it helps you.”

After four appearances over the first five weeks of the season, Queen had just one outing between March 22 and April 30, a two-inning stint in a 19-4 victory against Kansas on April 6. He picked up two of his wins in May, the first against Oklahoma on May 4 and the other in his most recent outing, a 7-5 victory against Kansas on May 24 at the Big 12 tournament.

Queen said things started to turn around after his April outing against the Jayhawks.

“That’s when I really started to feel a lot better,” he said. “The results may not have been as good as I hoped, but that’s when I felt that things were really starting to fall in sync.”

Pitching depth has been a significant plus for the Red Raiders this season with four pitchers selected in last week’s Major League Baseball draft. Queen said his teammates have shown what it takes to be successful.

“I just have to keep working hard,” he said. “As long as you keep your nose to the grindstone, you just have to stay humble. If I stay within myself, I have a good chance to do well in these kind of situations.”