The Texas A&M Baseball team started the 2008 campaign with a disappointing 2-2 split versus Northern Colorado. The Bears were out-talented at nearly every position, but brought no fear to Olsen Field and played well enough to sweep Saturday' s doubleheader 3-1 and 4-2. A&M was able to outmuscle UNC to win the opener and finale, 9-5 and 5-2.
A listed key to the season was the defensive play on the diamond itself, and that play on opening weekend was quite disconcerting. Every single infield position was accountable for an error at one point, though the two top first basemen dodged the blooper bug. A few errors were just laugh-off-able, such as Brian Ruggiano inexplicably dropping the last out of game one at first base, but most plays came with runners on base an extended innings that could have helped alter the final result.
Friday night saw five errors across the board, but luckily the Aggie bats bailed the defense out. Fans saw the go-ahead runner in Saturday's first game reach on a catcher's interference error, advance on a single, and then score on a wild pitch. An overthrown that wasn't even close to the catcher plated the third run just a few pitches later. A&M had just one error in both Saturday's nightcap and Sunday's matinee, but neither error played into the final outcome.
Still, a .941 fielding percentage inspires nothing positive, and this problem needs to be fixed in the next two weeks.
Production from the Middle of the Line-Up
Some of the biggest excitement about the 2008 offense was the expected success from the middle of the order. Returnees Blake Stouffer and Luke Anders had terrific seasons in 2007, while Darby Brown has good numbers in limited playing time. 2008, however, couldn't have been more cruel for that group.
Stouffer, a consensus pre-season All-American, fell victim to a host of hard hit "at ‘em balls" and appeared to start pressing as the weekend went on, which rarely works out well. Stouffer was robbed twice by diving catches hit to right field (both opposite field line drives), and scorched three ground balls – just right at middle infielders. He starts 2008 on an 0-for-12 stretch.
Anders didn't fare much better, getting a single hit in 12 at bats. That one hit was a deep double that plated a run, but his other at bats showed a power hitter that seemed to be trying a bit too hard to pull every pitch, and then have it land 450 feet away. Brown started just three of the contests, but played in all four and was just a sacrifice fly away from duplicating Stouffer's mark. Instead, he finished 0-for-11 and drove in a single run on that fly ball.
Combined, these key producers went 1-for-35 (.029), with two RBIs, two runs, six walks, and 11 strikeouts.
It's much too early to panic about an early season stumble, especially in a sport that's 56-60 games strong before the postseason participants are chosen, but the emphasis on other non-conference games has now been amplified. A&M doesn't have to win every extra-conference tilt to make up for this weekend's disappointment, but the margin for error has certainly been narrowed.
Outside of Kirkland Rivers' rough second and third trip through the order on Friday night, the pitching staff was simply outstanding. The four starters (Rivers, Kyle Thebeau, Barret Loux, and Scott Migl) struck out 26 while walking just seven in 21.2 innings on their way to a 3.82 weekend ERA. That number drops to 2.77 when Rivers' game is excluded.
As good as the starters were, the pen was even better. The relievers allowed just two runs (both by Clayton Ehlert) is 12.1 IP, striking out 16 while walking just four. UNC hit just .125 against this group. Travis Starling made three appearances, notching his first save of the year on Sunday, while Brooks Raley and Kevin Cravey also saw multiple trips to the mound. Shane Minks and Hank Robertson both saw a pair of effective innings.
The Rest of the Infield At the Plate
As rough as opening weekend was for Stouffer, Anders, and Brown, the baseball Gods were smiling upon Brian Ruggiano, Dane Carter, and Jose Duran. Ruggiano led all players with a .538 (7-for-13) weekend, knocking in three runs on a pair of doubles and a solo homer. Carter also hit the ball very hard all weekend, ending up with a .385 (5-for-13) mark, driving four runners home off of a double, triple, and two-run homer.
Duran's weekend wasn't as great statistically, but he constantly put the ball in play and applied pressure to the opposing defense. His series ended with a .286 average(4-for-14), with a pair of runs, RBI, and stolen bases.
Though the infield dominated at the plate, Raley had a solid weekend to pace all outfielders with a .333 average (3-for-9), scoring a pair of runs and driving a second one home. Kyle Colligan's average (.250) wasn't much to write home about, especially atop the lineup, but the centerfielder showed solid plate discipline and coaxed four walks to run up a .438 on-base-percentage. Anders also walked four times.
A&M returns to the diamond Tuesday and Wednesday for a mid-week series with McNeese State.
Aggie Baseball - Weekend Review
Aggie Digest Top Stories
Post Game Media: ArkansasThe Texas A&M Aggies moved to 4-0 on the season with a 45-24 win over Arkansas inside AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Kevin Sumlin and several players spoke with the media afterwards.
Aggie Digest7:22 AM
Game Balls: ArkansasThe Texas A&M Aggies squared off with the Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday in their annual game in Dallas. The Aggies came away with an impressive 45-24 win.
Aggie Digest5:45 AM
Game Week Media: Week 4 Arkansas (Players)The Texas A&M Aggies are preparing to face off with Arkansas Saturday in Dallas. A group of Aggie players were made available Tuesday during the weekly press conference.
Aggie DigestWednesday at 5:32 AM
Game Week Media: Week 4 Arkansas (Coaches)The Texas A&M Aggies have a showdown in Dallas this week with Arkansas. Several coaches and players met with the media Tuesday in advance of their second conference game.
Aggie DigestWednesday at 5:11 AM