Aggies hoping for deja vu

Justin Ruggiano's grand slam in 2004 seems like it was just yesterday. Could his brother, Brian, have a similar opportunity? Aggie Websider's Dallas Shipp had a chance to visit with another hero from that game to talk about the Aggies' last post season trip to Reckling Park.

As soon as Texas A&M advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals this weekend against Rice, it seemed like all anyone was talking about in the post game parking lot celebrations was Justin Ruggiano's grand slam in 2004 to send the Aggies to the NCAA Super Regionals in Baton Rouge against LSU.

But that grand slam was just the final piece of the puzzle in a bizarre weekend of baseball at Reckling Park that saw No. 1 seed Rice fall to No. 4 seed Texas Southern on the first day, sending the Owls to the dreaded losers bracket.

They fought their way back to Sunday, but had to beat the Aggies twice to move on and host LSU the next weekend in the NCAA Super Regionals. They won the first game on scorching hot Sunday afternoon, 3-1. But the second game is the only game that Aggie fans remember from that weekend, and Ruggiano's grand slam is the dominant memory of that game.

But the Aggies used several key hits and displayed a little Olsen Magic on the road in a game that will go down as one of the all time greats in Aggie baseball history.

The Aggies were tied 1-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. Lead singles by Cliff Pennington and Cory Patton put runners on second and third with Austin Boggs due up. But Boggs was forced to leave the game with a two-two count because of leg cramps that caused him to literally fall over.

That's when A&M senior shortstop Matt Alexander, who was just 8-of-47 (.149) at the plate in 2004 prior to that game, was given a chance to do something special.

"I was standing by Coach (Dave) Coleman and I had just put a south full of sunflower seeds in my mouth," Alexander said. "The next thing I know Boggs goes down with cramps. We didn't know what happened we just saw him limping. Coach Johnson stood up and looked in the dugout and I had a good feeling he was looking for me. I put a helmet on and grabbed a bat. Things were going so fast I really don't know what I was thinking."

Alexander drove the first pitch he saw from Rice reliever Philip Humber down the right-field line for an RBI double. Coby Mavroulis then delivered a sacrifice fly to give the Aggies a 3-1 lead. But what most people don't know about Alexander's hit, is that it almost didn't happen.

"Coach Johnson said ‘I really need these two people moved over, do you want to bunt?' I said ‘no, I'm swinging,'" Alexander said. "I got in the box and he threw a hanging curveball and I swung and hit it in the gap and I knew I had a double. I got to second and was looking around and tried to put two and two together. I still really didn't know what happened."

Rice came back in the top of the seventh though with a two-run home run from Clay Reichenbach in the top of the seventh to tie the game at three and then took the lead when Adam Rogers belted a two-out two-RBI single in the eighth.

The Owls held a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning and things weren't looking good for the Aggies.

But Craig Stinson, John Infante and Travis Bartek all singled to load the bases for Ruggiano with one out, setting the stage for one of the biggest hits in A&M baseball history.

"I was in the dugout and obviously the bases were loaded and we were jumping up and down," Alexander said. "We all knew that Ruggiano hit the ball well the other way and we saw him hit it and we started holding onto one another. We had a good idea it was going in the gap but didn't know it was going to go over. We saw it go over the fence and we were ecstatic."

The A&M dugout went into a fit of hysteria while the other side of the diamond was in shock. A&M freshman Kyle Nicholson, who will have a chance to produce more memorable moments as a senior this weekend, pitched the final 1.1 innings and slammed the door on the Owls' season and sent the Aggies on to the super regionals against LSU with the 7-5 win.

Even though, the Aggies failed to knock off LSU for a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, it was a special ending to Alexander and so many other seniors' careers.

"Obviously that year I didn't play a whole lot," Alexander said. "So it was a great way to end my career on a high note like that."

Alexander, who has traveled to Olsen Field this year to see a few games and visit with the new coaching staff, said if he could give any advice to this year's Aggies it would be to play hard and live for the moment.

"When you get into the playoffs anything can happen," he said. "They'll be talking about this weekend with these group of guys for the rest of their life."

With several players from the 2004 team on this year's squad (Jason Meyer, Craig Stinson, Kyle Nicholson, Parker Dalton), and another Ruggiano in the lineup, the stories that this year's team tell could end up with many similar twists and turns.

But the only storyline the Aggies really hope turns out the same is the ending.


NOTES:
Matt Alexander is now working for an advertising firm in Irving that sells online advertising to companies in the DFW Metroplex.

Justin Ruggiano is now playing for the Montgomery Biscuits, the AA team in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization.




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