Big 12 Tournament Notebook - Day 4

It's championship Sunday in Bricktown, and the Aggies are in the mix for the first time in a long time. Aggie Websider's Lanny Hayes takes a look at day four of the tournament and what Childress' strategy could be as he balances a championship and next weekend's regional appearance.

Championship Sunday is upon us, and Texas A&M is relevant again for the first time in years.

For a program that blew out of the gates as the premiere team in Big 12 baseball, the Aggies have struggled to regain their footing as a conference team to be feared. They haven't taken home any Big 12 baseball hardware since 1999, and have played for a trophy just twice since then.

In 2001, A&M swept through their side of the tournament bracket to setup a winner-take-all showdown with Nebraska for the Big 12 tournament title. Current major leaguer Dan Johnson didn't exactly have the Aggies' best interests in mind, slugging two homers to straightaway centerfield and leading the Huskers to a 7-4 win.

The only other sniff in the last eight seasons came in 2003, when the Aggies took two of three against the Longhorns to draw into a tie for the regular season title. The Aggies needed Baylor to defeat Nebraska on the final day, but the Bears blew a four run lead in the eighth inning and the Huskers brought home the championship. That loss sent A&M to the 2-3-6-7 bracket, and the Saturday double-dip by Texas sent the team in a psychological tailspin. Still reeling, the Ags were double-dipped in the regional championship games just eight days later.

Outside of those two events, A&M baseball has been largely irrelevant in Big 12 play. The team went two-and-out in 2000 and mustered just a single win in 2002. The 2005 and 2006 tournaments were enjoyed from living rooms all over College Station. Even in 2004, when A&M made a run to the NCAA Super Regionals, the team couldn't win a game in the Big 12 tournament.

Bringing a trophy home would be a huge achievement for Rob Childress, whose team has already improved by 18 in the win column and may be hosting a regional at Olsen Field next weekend.

Childress has yet to announce a starting pitcher, but most insiders are speculating that Scott Migl will toe the hill. Kyle Nicholson has thrown just 2.1 innings this week, but don't expect him in the game unless it's in a closing role. Childress may have to suppress some natural tendencies to keep Nicholson off of the hill in a prolonged role, but no one will remember winning this game if next weekend's results aren't favorable.

If A&M wins the Big 12 tournament, look for Craig Stinson to bring home the MVP trophy. The senior catcher is now 7-for-13 (.538) with a homer and seven RBI in the tournament thus far. He's also ripped a double and scored a pair of runs while striking out just once.

Blake Stouffer is probably also a lock for the All-Tournament team, batting .400 with three runs scored, four RBI, a double and a homerun in pool play.

Kyle Colligan and Brian Ruggiano are also quality All-Tournament candidates. Colligan hit .444 with a triple and a run scored, while Ruggiano is hitting .333 with two doubles and two runs scored.

Texas A&M is likely to be selected as a regional host at 2:30 today, when the NCAA releases that information in a press conference.

The field will be completely announced at 11:30 AM Monday on ESPN, but the Aggies may already have an idea who they'll see in a first round match-up this Friday.

In fact, they know him all too well.

The Sam Houston State Bearkats won the Southland Conference tournament on Saturday, earning their first NCAA regional bid since 1996. The Bearkats are a likely four-seed in a hypothetical College Station regional—not only due to proximity, but also the NCAA's love for subplots.

A Bearkat trip to College Station would bring Mark Johnson back to the field he helped mold, against the program that he brought to prominence. While Aggie fans were almost universally united in agreeing with his departure, most still maintain an affinity for the man and what he did for the A&M program.

There's no doubt that Aggie fans would be able to place those feelings aside for nine innings, but the situation has "weird" written all over it. Hopefully the NCAA sees it that way to, and sends the Bearkats to the Rice regional in Houston, trading them for a much weaker Prairie View A&M team.

With the Ags being on the bubble to host, they'd certainly take a home regional and play whoever they draw, and it's likely that the NCAA will do them three favors in one weekend. If A&M hosts, look for Johnson's return on Friday night, along with three mainstays of last year's Aggie line-up—Austin Boggs, Keith Stein, and Todd Sebek.

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