Friday's scouting report on the Kansas State Wildcats led observers to a common conclusion: Get past their tremendous starters and into their bullpen, and success can be earned. The Texas A&M baseball club executed that plan far better than could have been reasonably expected, winning 7-2, 13-8, and a run-rule shortened 14-4 on Sunday.
Friday's 7-2 win featured another first inning scoring explosion, this time coming from a Darby Brown grand slam (his 2nd in as many conference games), that once again allowed freshman hurler Brooks Raley to relax and pitch ahead all night. Kansas State jumped to a 7-1 lead heading to the bottom of the 6th on Saturday night, but the Ags put up a pair that frame plus seven in the seventh and three in the eighth to ice the contest. A&M continued the offense with six runs early on Sunday, and Clayton Ehlert pitched well after early shakiness to earn his first Big 12 win of the year.
The sweep was A&M's second in as many weekends, and the six consecutive conference wins are just one short of A&M's all-time Big 12 mark. The three wins move the Aggies, winners of their last nine, to 26-6 overall and 9-3 in league play. That 9-3 mark continues to trail first place Nebraska by 1.5 games, as they completed a home sweep of Texas Tech, but lengthened their lead over the rest of the Big 12 pack. Missouri entered the weekend tied with the Aggies, but dropped 2 of 3 to Oklahoma State (who had just dropped 2 of 3 to Kansas State) and fell to fourth at 5-4 (2.5 games behind the Aggies). The Texas Longhorns took 2/3 from A&M's next opponent, Oklahoma, and climbed third at 7-5 in the league (2 games back of A&M).
The root causes for A&M's weekend success are easy to pinpoint - an all out onslaught against the full Kansas State pitching staff and solid work of their own on the mound.
Getting into the Wildcat bullpen was listed as a major key to the weekend, as the KSU starters brought a ridiculously low ERA to Olsen Field. Instead of squeaking past those starters and making hay against the pen, the Aggie offense chose to attack the Wildcat pitching staff and did so with outstanding regularity. They pushed across an impressive 34 runs on 43 hits, but the consistency of the attack was even more laudable. Kansas State sent 11 pitchers to the mound during the three game series, and every single one of them was tagged with at least one earned run.
For the first time all year, Rob Childress sent the same line-up out each day, and one result was some very gaudy stat lines. The middle of the Aggie order, which has been the catalyst for the recent offensive explosion, had another memoriable weekend. Dane Carter hit .615 with 3 doubles, a triple and six RBI from the three-hole, while Jose Duran (.333-0-1) had a solid weekend to help break out of a recent funk. Darby Brown (.462-1-8, 3 R, 2B) continues to destroy the ball and extended his hitting streak to sixteen games.
Luke Anders was moved from the 7th to 6th spot in the order this weekend, and responded with by hitting three homers and driving in six to go along with a .364 average. Brian Ruggiano had yet another quiet but stellar weekend, batting .500 with a homer, four runs scored and two RBI.
The top of the Aggie order, Kyle Colligan and Blake Stouffer, struggled for different reasons in the first 15-18 games, but have come alive lately and both had solid weekends at the plate. Colligan hit .417, scored five times and drove in five, four of which came on a Sunday afternoon grand slam. Blake Stouffer copied that .417 and five runs scored, and tossed in a homer with three RBI of his own.
The success of the top seven has given Childress an incredible luxury, the ability to trade some offense for defense at the bottom of the order, but even a struggling Ben Feltner and green Kevin Gonzalez got in on the weekend hit parade. Feltner hit .300 with a double and an RBI, while Gonzalez hit .286 and drove in a run of his own. Raley threw in a looping single that was the eventual catalyst for A&M's seven run comeback in Saturday night's game.
The offense's stellar weekend was coupled with solid pitching performances from throughout the Aggie pitching staff. Raley allowed just one run on Friday, a seventh inning solo HR, and scattered six hits in 6.1 innings pitched. Kyle Thebeau came on in that inning and finished off Friday's contest by allowing just a single run of his own. Barret Loux threw four very good innings on Saturday before getting hit hard in the fifth and sixth, but Hank Robertson was able to stop the bleeding and provided momentum to the offense's late-inning barrage. Travis Starling came in and earned his seventh save of the year that night.
The Sunday starter spot has been a huge concern, and things looked to be looking no better when Clayton Ehlert gave up four hits in Sunday's first frame. The sophomore settled down though, and gave up just four earned runs in 6.1 innings. Thebeau came on and allowed a first pitch RBI double, but then cooled the Wildcat bats and earned his first save of the year.
The Aggies return to the diamond on Tuesday night in Houston, where they'll take on the Cougars at 6:30 PM. The Aggies will put their six game conference winning streak on the line against Oklahoma this weekend at Olsen Field.
Aggies pick up three-game sweep over KSU
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