Aggies face tough tournament field

The Aggies will square off against three undefeated teams in this weekend's Domino's Pizza Classic, and they're hoping that their offense will start performing as well as the pitching staff has done so far. Aggie Websider's Dallas Shipp takes a look at the field heading into this weekend's tournament at Olsen Field.

The Domino's Pizza Classic is a state-wide holiday for Aggie baseball fans, and this weekend has emerged as an important early-season test for the Aggies, who have struggled to find a groove offensively. It's not going to get any easier this weekend when the Aggies host Arkansas, Ohio State and Louisiana Tech in the annual tournament at Olsen Field.

The four-team, three-day, round-robin format features the defending Big 12 postseason champion Texas A&M (4-2), which hosts three undefeated teams, including defending SEC Western Division Champion Arkansas (4-0), reining Big Ten Tournament Champion Ohio State (3-0) and WAC preseason runner-up pick Louisiana Tech (6-0).

2008 marks the 16th installment of the Classic, which debuted in 1989 with the Aggies going a perfect 6-0. A&M is hoping to win its 12th tournament championship in the 17-year history of the event, which could be a sign of things to come for Aggie baseball fans against an extremely salty field this year.

The Aggies enter the weekend with solid pitching, especially the bullpen, but have struggled to get things going at the plate, which cost them two games against Northern Colorado in the season opening series at Olsen Field last weekend.

The A&M bullpen has been nothing short of spectacular through the first six games of the season.

Eight Aggies have seen action in relief, posting a combined 1.33 ERA and picking up a pair of wins and a save. In 20 1/3 innings of work, opposing teams have managed just 15 hits (.208 average) and three earned runs while striking out 24 times.

Of the 10 runners the bullpen has inherited, only one has scored.

In four appearances by Travis Starling, three appearances by Brooks Raley and Kevin Cravey and two appearances by Hank Robertson, the Aggies have been lights out.

The foursome have combined to pitch 12.2 innings, allowing just one unearned run on seven hits and two walks during that span while striking out 16 batters.

As a staff, the Aggies boast a 2.25 ERA and averaging 10 strikeouts per game, holding opposing hitters to a .212 average.

The Aggies did show signs of life on offense during the midweek series against McNeese State, but only scored eight runs in each game against a McNeese pitching staff that allowed at least 13 runs in each of the first three games of the season against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs posted 14, 13 and 17 runs against the Cowboys and have scored at least eight runs in all six of their games this season.

A&M pounded out 23 hits and scored 16 runs in its two wins against the Cowboys, and the Aggies are now hitting .293 on the year with two home runs and 31 RBI. The Aggies average 5.5 runs per game and have stolen 11 bases, including six on Wednesday.

A&M is led at the plate by junior catcher Brian Ruggiano (.450, 1 HR, 3 RBI), who has hit safely in five of the Aggies' six games, and senior third baseman Dane Carter (.421, 1 HR, 6 RBI), who is currently riding a four-game hit streak.

Arkansas

Arkansas, the defending SEC West Champions, enter the weekend with a 4-0 record. The Razorbacks swept Wright State last weekend and downed Kansas on Tuesday, all in Fayetteville.

The Hogs, a national top-8 seed in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, sport a .260 batting average and a 2.50 team ERA. They are led at the plate by Andy Wilkins and Aaron Murphree, who both sport .462 averages with 1 home run and six RBI. Arkansas pitching has held opponents to a paltry .168 average.

Louisiana Tech

Louisiana Tech is a perfect 6-0 after sweeping McNeese State last weekend and a doubleheader from UTA on Tuesday, and picking up a road win Wednesday night at UL-Monroe. The Bulldogs, picked to finish second in the WAC, are crushing the baseball at the plate. Tech is hitting .342 with 12 home runs and 62 RBI while averaging 11.8 runs per contest. They are as good on the mound with a 2.33 team ERA, 56 strikeouts and a .203 opponent average.

Pacing the Bulldogs is two-way standout Jericho Jones (.478, 3 HR, 9 RBI; 1-0, 4.32 ERA), who is scheduled to start Sunday against the Aggies. Chris Kersten (.476, 2 HR, 15 RBI) and Albie Goulder (.450, 3 HR, 11 RBI) also fuel the offensive attack.

Ohio State

Ohio State (3-0), the reigning Big Ten Tourney champion, is also unbeaten. The Buckeyes, who were at Olsen Field for last year's NCAA Regional, have not played since winning all three games at last weekend's Service Academies Spring Classic in Millington, Tenn.

OSU's pitching staff boasts the best ERA in the field at 1.33, allowing just eight runs on the season while holding batters to a .206 average.

At the plate, the Buckeyes are hitting .264 with two homers and 13 RBI. Justin Miller (.500, 4 RBI) leads the team in batting average, doubles, RBI and slugging percentage.

PROBABLE A&M PITCHING MATCHUPS

FRIDAY: A&M - Kirkland Rivers (Sr., LHP, 0-0, 7.20 ERA) vs OSU - Dan DeLucia (Sr., LHP, 0-0, 2.25 ERA)
SATURDAY: A&M - Barret Loux (Fr., RHP, 0-0, 3.60 ERA) vs ARK - Kendall Korbal (Fr., RHP, 0-0, 2.25 ERA)
SUNDAY: A&M - Scott Migl (So., RHP, 0-0, 2.84 ERA) vs LAT - Jericho Jones (Jr., RHP, 1-0, 4.32 ERA)

TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 29
Arkansas vs Louisiana Tech (CST) 12:30 p.m. CT
Texas A&M vs Ohio State 6:30 p.m. CT
SATURDAY, MARCH 1
Ohio State vs Louisiana Tech 12:30 p.m. CT
Texas A&M vs Arkansas (CST) 6:30 p.m. CT
SUNDAY, MARCH 2
Arkansas vs Ohio State (CST) 11 a.m. CT
Louisiana Tech vs Texas A&M (CST) 3 p.m. CT

WEEKEND NOTES

Broadcast Information
COX Sports Television will be broadcasting four of the games this weekend from Olsen Field. Friday's Arkansas/Louisiana Tech game, Saturday's A&M/Arkansas matchup and both Sunday games will be televised. All will be live except the final game of the tournament, featuring A&M and Louisiana Tech, which will be aired same-day tape.

Lyn Rollins (play-by-play) and Ron Swoboda (commentary) will call the first three games, while Will Johnson (play-by-play) and Alan Cannon (commentary) will bring fans the final game of the tournament.

Fans can listen to all the action on the home of Aggie Baseball and the flagship station of Texas A&M Athletics, News/Talk 1620 WTAW. Dave South, Scott Clendenin and Chuck Glenewinkel will call the action. All broadcasts begin 15 minutes prior to first pitch.

Series History
Texas A&M leads the all-time series with Arkansas (37-29-1) and Louisiana Tech (23-7), but trails to Ohio State (9-6).

The Aggies and Razorbacks were members of the Southwest Conference from 1915 until Arkansas moved to the SEC in 1991.

A&M and Ohio State have played 15 times, but just three times since 1952--twice in 2000 at the Domino's Pizza Classic and once last season in the NCAA Regional. The Aggies defeated the Buckeyes in a College World Series matchup back in 1951.

Louisiana Tech and Texas A&M have played 30 times, but have not met on the baseball diamond since 1991.

A&M, Arkansas staff have strong ties
The Aggie coaching staff has strong ties to Arkansas skipper Dave Van Horn.

A&M head coach Rob Childress has known and coached with Van Horn for a long time. The two first teamed up at Texarkana College during the 1991 and 1992 seasons, then again from 1995-97 when Van Horn was head coach at Northwestern State.

Childress then went with Van Horn to Nebraska, where he served five seasons (1998-2002) before Van Horn left to take over the Arkansas program.

Aggie assistant coach Matt Deggs spent two years with Childress on Van Horn's staff at NSU (1997-98). Before coming to College Station, Deggs spent three seasons at the University of Arkansas as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator for Van Horn. In Deggs' first season in Fayetteville (2004), Arkansas won the SEC and advanced to the College World Series.

A&M assistant Jeremy Talbot, a 1997 graduate of the University of Arkansas, started two seasons for the Razorbacks as a designated hitter and catcher. He served as the volunteer assistant coach for Dave Van Horn at Nebraska in 1999.

Finally, Aggie volunteer assistant Andy Sawyers played two seasons at Nebraska (1997-98), the last as part of Van Horn's first team in Lincoln.


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