Texas A&M Bats Too Hot for Bulldogs; State Tied for Third in West As SEC Second Half Begins

Sometimes all one ball club can do is salute the other. This was the Diamond Dogs’ turn. “Big credit to them,” Gavin Collins said speaking for the squad. “Those guys can swing it.”

Those guys being a Texas A&M club that had already clubbed baseballs all over Dudy Noble Field in 10-3 and 10-6 wins. Sunday the Aggies completed their sweeping of Mississippi State, this time with a 10-5 final. With the sweep Texas A&M strengthened their standing on top of the SEC’s Western Division at 10-5, 29-7 overall.

The team they replaced in first place, State, slipped to 8-7 and 24-12-1 with their first lost weekend of SEC season. The Bulldogs felt pretty warm heading into Super Bulldog Weekend after winning at #1 Florida.

What they ran into was a red-hot Aggie team. With an offense verging on radioactive. All those big numbers on the A&M stat sheet weren’t inflated a digit, Collins agreed.

“100%, they proved it this weekend. I think this will be the best team we face offensively the whole year.”

Sunday, the Aggie order—all of them either juniors or seniors—surpassed even the output of the first two wins. A&M battered Bulldog pitching for 17 hits, all but four of them singles, giving them 47 safeties for the series.

The visitors also held a 4-1 lead at the stretch. This time though the Bulldogs, who’d seen Friday and Saturday rallies get close, not only caught up but went ahead. A four-run outburst in the seventh staked State to a 5-4 lead, positioned to salvage a split. Or it was until Aggie bats resumed business. Four matching runs in the eighth more than trumped the comeback.

“We got a lead, it’d been a tough weekend but our kids kept fighting,” Coach John Cohen said. “We just couldn’t slam the door there.”

With OF/RHP Reid Humphreys on the hill, A&M attacked…with the short game. A leadoff bunt-for-hit by the nine-hitter and a true sacrifice had the tying runner on second base for the meat of the order. Nick Banks tied the game with what should have been a routine grounder, that instead took a freak high-hop over 2B Hunter Stovall’s glove. Austin Homan scored from second on the fluke single.

There was nothing cheap about a single from Boomer White for two on bases. And instead of swinging for deep, cleanup slugger Hunter Melton yanked a grounder inside third base for a double and two RBI. Worse, LF Cody Brown’s throw in was wild putting Melton on third base sohe could score on a Ryne Birk fly ball.

“Things happened, and some things we didn’t do well happened,” Cohen said. “But they took advantage of it.”

A&M padded the lead, and reached ten runs for a sixth-straight game, on a two-RBI double in their ninth from Banks. That final hit meant the top-three in the Aggie order all had three safeties and a combined six RBI. Then again, the bottom of the order also had six hits and accounted for five of the runs.

Humphreys (0-1) took the loss on 2.2 innings late relief. He absorbed six of the runs on seven hits with a walk and two strikeouts, before RHP Keegan James entered for the final out.

“Reid has been really sharp and will be sharp again,” Cohen said.

At the earlier end of the afternoon, LHP Konnor Pilkington got his second SEC start in as many Sundays. It didn’t go as well as the first, the freshman lasting just 1.0-plus innings. He did survive consecutive first-inning singles with no damage, and struck out three. In the second inning though back-to-back singles set up a sacrifice situation.

Nick Choruby dumped the ball to the left side and Pilkington made the mistake of cutting in front of the charging Collins to field it…and slipped down. With bases full and no outs Pilkington was replaced by RHP Ryan Rigby. He got a fast double-play as the defense played in tight and Homan hit it right to 1B Nathaniel Lowe. The force at home and relay to first had the Dogs within out of keeping it scoreless.

But order-topper Moss went the other way with a single to score the remaining runners.

Rigby recovered form and battled for 5.0 official innings, allowing two runs on five hits despite three walks. Since 12 of the first 19 Aggies he faced reached base some sort of way, giving lone runs in the fourth and fifth was quite an accomplishment. He needed a couple of top-tier plays from C Elih Marrero with the glove in the process.

But Aggie starter Kyle Simonds was sharper. He went 4.0 innings with just one run scoring, as in the third Lowe’s fly ball plated Stovall from third base. Simmonds didn’t blow Dogs down, and walked three. He did produce enough playable ground and fly balls to hand Ryan Hendrix a 4-1 lead in the MSU fifth. It stayed that way into the seventh as both teams stranded multiple runners.

An out into the top of the seventh CF Jake Mangum singled ahead of Collins, who turned on Hendrix and parked a two-run homer—his seventh shot of the season—behind leftfield. Lowe rattled Hendrix more with a bullet to the back for a single. With two outs RF Brent Rooker fought one off for a fly ball that fell fair in rightfield.

Lowe turned in what had to be a record, for him, first-to-home time ahead of a throw for the tie, and Rooker took third behind the throw. Mitchell Kilkenny took over on the mound to face a struggling Marrero. The catcher got good barrel this time and drove it past a playing-shallow centerfielder for the double and 5-4 lead. Which didn’t last past the next Aggie inning.

“They just hit balls where we weren’t this weekend,” Cohen said.

Mangum had three total hits and scored once for State, while Rooker and Marrero each had a pair of hits. Of State’s ten hits four were good for extra-bases. That wasn’t enough to offset superior Aggie swinging. Kilkenny (2-0) got the win on 2.1 innings with a hit, a strikeout, and nothing else charged.

“You can tell, they play with a great deal of confidence and that’s a real credit to them,” Cohen said.

Deflating as a sweep can be, the Bulldogs are still half-way into the SEC schedule and within a weekend of returning to the top. And, demonstrating the quirks of scheduling, even the lost series gave a small boost to team RPI and SOS. This will keep State firmly in the polls and more importantly on track for post-season play.

“This doesn’t define us,” Collins said. “We’re going to move on and we’re good to go.”

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