FARMINGTON — The 2014 season was a roller coaster ride for Dominic Moreno and the Texas Tech baseball team.
Moreno, a 2011 Piedra Vista graduate, was an integral part of the Red Raiders' pitching staff that helped guide the team to its first College World Series appearance in school history this June.
Pitches by the former Panthers' star bookended the Tech season.
He had the honor of being the opening-day starter against then-No. 3 Indiana, throwing six innings in a 1-0 loss on Feb. 14.
He also had the unfortunate distinction of throwing the final pitch of the Red Raider season. In a game against Ole Miss on June 17, he was brought in from the bullpen with one out and runners on first and third in the bottom of the ninth inning. He allowed the walkoff single to Ole Miss pinch hitter Jon Gatlin that gave the Rebels a 2-1 win and knocked Tech out of the CWS.
With a 1-2 count, Moreno threw a slider low and outside the strike zone that Gatlin reached out and looped into right field for the game-winning single.
"I threw the pitch of my life, and he did what he needed to do," Moreno said in a phone interview on Friday.
During his junior year, Moreno filled a variety of roles for Tech on the mound. He made 22 appearances, including eight starts, while compiling a 4-5 record with a 3.14 ERA.
He was second on the team with 56 strike outs over 66 innings.
Moreno opened the season as the team's Friday night starter, but he moved to the bullpen after running into command issues during the middle of the season. Red Raiders' reliever Ryan Mosley was also having control issues and took Moreno's spot in the rotation in an effort to jump start both pitchers' seasons.
"I had a couple games where I'd struggled with walks," Moreno said. "I have the mentality where I can come out of the (bullpen). We didn't really have guys who were settled into that role. Even late in games, we were kind of unconventional."
Coming into the season, Moreno said the team hoped it would make a regional appearance in the NCAA tournament, but few had the Red Raiders penciled in for the kind of success they reached.
Tech was picked to finish in either eighth or ninth place in the nine-team Big 12 Conference in the preseason polls.
The Red Raiders battled through a difficult conference schedule to finish in fourth place and earn the No. 2 seed in the Coral Gables, Fla., Regional with the University of Miami, Columbia and Bethune-Cookman.
After a 3-2 win in the opener with Columbia, Tech defeated Miami in two of its three games to advance out of the regional.
Moreno didn't make an appearance in the regional due to a lingering rib injury that had him available only in an emergency situation.
The right-hander said it would have been unlikely he'd have thrown much against the Hurricanes, even if he had been healthy, because of Miami's struggle with left-handers.
"Miami was bad against lefties on paper, so we pretty much only threw lefties against them," Moreno said.
Tech advanced and hosted the Super Regional in Lubbock, Texas, after No. 4 seed College of Charleston upset Florida and Long Beach State.
Moreno compared hosting the Super Regional to his time playing for Strike Zone in the Connie Mack World Series.
"That was a cool atmosphere," he said. "The crowd is cheering every strike. They went nuts."
With the rib injury behind him, Moreno saw his first action of the NCAA tournament in the second game of the series against the Cougars, throwing two-thirds of an inning in the seventh, as the Red Raiders defeated Charleston 1-0 and advanced to the College World Series.
The Tech reliever needed a little help from his defense to get the shutout going.
With two outs and a runner on second base, Charleston shortstop Champ Rowland hit a ball into the gap between right and center field. Tech center fielder Devon Conley made a diving catch to rob Rowland of the hit and keep the Red Raiders in the lead.
"I got to be on SportsCenter because of that awesome catch," Moreno said.
The victory sent Moreno and his teammates to the CWS in Omaha, Neb.
Moreno said he felt fortunate to be there, knowing it's the dream of every college baseball player to make it to the Series.
"We got to tour the stadium, but I just wanted to play," he said. "It was a tough tournament. It felt like we outplayed them and freak things happen."
The Red Raiders dropped their two CWS games, falling to conference-rival TCU 3-2 and Ole Miss 2-1.
Tech led the Horned Frogs 2-1 in the eighth inning before letting the lead slip away. They also scored in the top of the ninth against Ole Miss to tie the game at 1-1 before the Gatlin single against Moreno ended the Red Raiders' season.
"I don't think I've ever thrown one like that that got hit," said Moreno, whose team finished with a 45-21 record. "I did all I could, and the team did everything it could."
In the postseason, Moreno also achieved one of his individual baseball goals when the St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in the 33rd round on June 7.
Moreno said he hasn't decided whether to sign a pro contract with St. Louis or return for his senior year at Tech. He says he will likely wait until the MLB amateur draft signing deadline on July 18 before making his decision.
Moreno has a number in mind for the terms contract and said he will sign if the Cardinals reach that number.
"I'm not desperate to play pro ball. That's not my focus," he said. "If I come back, I'll be one year closer to my degree. Playing pro ball is something I've worked for my whole life, but I'm in a different position than a lot of players where I don't have to go right now."
One thing that has Moreno leaning toward returning to Tech is the chance to team up again with former PV teammate Kholeton Sanchez.
Sanchez, who was also drafted in the 32nd by the Los Angeles Angels, graduated from PV in 2012 and has committed to play catcher for Texas Tech after a year at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs.
"I can't tell you how excited I'd be to team up with Kholeton again. He's like a little brother to me," Moreno said. "I think he can walk in and be the best defensive catcher in the Big 12. It'd be a dream come true to pitch to him again."
Sanchez is also looking forward to the chance of teaming up with Moreno again.
"We're both excited to be teammates again," Sanchez said via Twitter. "(It's) going to be a great season."
Since making the CWS and being drafted, Moreno has received encouragement from the Farmington community and said he is thankful for the support.
"I'm getting texts and tweets and calls from all my friends and family and coaches," he said. "They are telling my family they are proud of me and all the success we've had. It's heartwarming to know everyone is following the journey."
PV head coach Mike McGaha made the trip to Omaha to see his former player pitch against Ole Miss. McGaha said he was hoping Tech wouldn't use Moreno until the second game since his schedule forced him to miss the first game against TCU.
"To get to witness him on that stage and at that facility was one of my top three baseball experiences," McGaha said.
With the season at its end, Moreno will rest up his arm for next season and hit the weight room in the hopes of helping Tech make a return trip to Omaha in 2015.
"If I come back as a senior, I just need to get stronger and find more velocity. I'm just doing what I can in the weight room," he said. "I'd like to get back to Omaha. We had a great team chemistry this year. It was like being back in high school."