Friday's Aggie Websider preview of the A&M/OSU baseball series drew figurative comparisons between the hardball contests and A&M's NCAA basketball tournament circumstances.
No one knew just how literal it would be.
After a strong start that drew inspiration and hope of breaking recent trends, A&M clutched defeat from the jaws of victory. A strong 9-5 win on Friday seemed to signal that OSU's recent dominance, especially in Stillwater, was coming to an end, but a combination of solid OSU pitching and A&M's inability to convert in key situations led to a Saturday/Sunday swoon. OSU took a 3-2 win on Saturday where they forced A&M to strand a small village on the bases in the late innings, and then took advantage of timely hitting and another solid pitching effort to earn a 6-4 win in the rubber match.
The manner in which OSU won these games makes their series victory, home or not, even more impressive. The style of the contests were much more in line with that which Rob Childress designs his team around – and wants them to thrive – but the slick-hitting and (statistically) average pitching Cowboys won the series on A&M's terms.
What was more like the basketball game, however, is the frustration that comes from circumstance. In a vacuum; the preseason No. 4 team (in the Big 12) visiting the No. 5 team should probably be a 2-1 series win for the home squad. Consider that the three contests were the first road games for the No. 4 team, and the 2-1 result seems even more logical.
However, just as the opening of the West Regional bracket and A&M's early game performance gave fans that sense of hope, Friday's 9-5 win provided inspiration on many levels. Getting the first game of the series certainly simplifies the task (to win the series, now, just split the last two), and it gave confidence that the team could play on the road when they haven't traveled from home all season. But that hope was eroded as the Cowboy pitching staff dominated Aggie hitters in the final two contests.
That dominance wasn't entirely statistical, as A&M's .243 average isn't terrible though certainly won't win any awards. What was more impressive was the rate that OSU made A&M strand base runners in critical situations, including four in Saturday's last two innings and three in scoring position with less than 2 outs on Sunday.
Individually, the Aggie offense was led by Dane Carter (.444-1-2, 5 Runs, .615 OBP) and Jose Duran (.333-0-1). Brian Ruggiano (.308-1-2), Nick Fleece (.300-1-3) , and Luke Anders (.273-1-1) all went deep for the Aggies, while Darby Brown (.272-1-3) had a hit in each contest. Kyle Colligan, with a 1-for-13 performance, had a weekend to forget and saw his season average drop to .258.
Though Sunday's totals were less than inspiring, the Aggie pitching staff had a solid weekend overall.
Brooks Raley earned Friday night's win by scattering eight hits in 6.2 innings, allowing four runs while striking out four. Barret Loux threw a similarly good game on Saturday, allowing just three runs and five hits in 7.2 innings pitched. He was a hard-luck loser, as the Aggie offense couldn't muster more than their early pair of runs, despite striking out six. After Clayton Ehlert and Carson Middleton struggled on Sunday, Hank Robertson shut OSU down and kept A&M within striking distance by retiring all six batters he faced. Overall, the weekend ended with the Ags earning a 4.68 ERA while allowing OSU to bat just .268 – 74 points below their season average.
"The difference in today's game is that they got the big hits and we didn't," A&M coach Rob Childress said. "I thought we pitched pretty well all weekend, well enough to win the series or even sweep, but we didn't get the big hits when they counted. It's disappointing. We've got a good team and we definitely haven't played our best baseball of the season yet, but we have to keep getting better. But the bottom line this weekend is we didn't get it done."
A&M returns to the diamond this Tuesday with a 6 PM first pitch in San Antonio against UTSA. Next weekend sees the Ags back on the road to face Kansas.
Aggies drop two of three to OSU
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