Aggies rally for incredible 7-run comeback

After trailing by seven runs heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, Texas A&M's never-say-die attitude, and a little Olsen Magic, lifted the No. 6 Aggies over the No. 4 Missouri Tigers in an Olsen Field thriller that will be talked about for years to come. Aggie Websider's Dallas Shipp reports live from Olsen Field.

Friday's series opener against No. 4 Missouri was billed as a pitchers duel between two undefeated starting pitchers—Texas A&M's 5-0 freshman Brooks Raley and Missouri ace Aaron Crow, the Big 12 leader in wins and strikeouts. It turned out to be anything but as the Aggies bounced Crow from the game in the seventh inning to get to the vulnerable Tigers bullpen.

Two innings later, Missouri reliever Ryan Allen was called for a balk, forcing in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning as the No. 6 Aggies came back from a seven-run deficit to pick up their Big 12 Conference record-tying 13th straight conference win in a 9-8 thriller at Olsen Field.

"I can't say enough about the toughness of this group. They keep coming and make you get all 27 outs. Tonight's a perfect example, last Sunday was as well. There's no quit in this team," Childress said. "When you're down 8-1 against Crow, you feel like, turn out the lights, the party's over. You probably got that feeling too when we ran some guys out there, but Michael Heard came in there and gave us a shot."

Heard was able to shut down the Tigers (29-12, 9-7) in for 1.1 innings, allowing zero hits and zero runs over that span to stop the bleeding for the Aggies (35-7, 16-3), who had given up eight runs over the last three innings.

But the comeback may have never happened had left fielder Ben Feltner not leaped up over the wall and snagged what would have been a grand slam in the top of the second inning, preventing an early 4-0 lead by the Tigers.

The Aggies put up the first run of the game in the bottom half of the second on a sacrifice fly by Feltner to give A&M an early 1-0 lead.

But in the top of the fourth, things took a turn south for A&M, as Missouri put up a three-run frame. The Tigers' Kurt Calvert and Kyle Mach collected back-to-back singles with one out in the inning before Ryan Lollis made Raley pay with a two-out, two-run double into left-center field. Lollis scored on an RBI single by Trevor Coleman to give the Tigers a 3-1 lead after three and a half innings of play. All three runs were scored with two outs in the inning.

Missouri added another run in the fifth before seemingly putting the game away with a four-run sixth inning.

Tiger second baseman Greg Folgia led off the inning with a single and advanced to third on a double by Lollis. Folgia scored and Lollis advanced to third on a balk by A&M reliever Carson Middleton, and Lollis scored on a double by designated hitter Jacob Priday.

Missouri left fielder Aaron Senne seemed to put a dagger through the heart of A&M's hopes with a two-run homer , giving the Tigers a 8-1 lead after five and a half innings.

But that's when the Aggies went to work.

Trailing by seven runs in the bottom of the sixth, the Aggies mounted their first serious threat of the evening as the first three batters reached base. Darby Brown knocked an RBI single into right-center field, cutting the Tigers lead down to six, 8-2.

The Aggies managed to plate only one run, but they forced Missouri starter Aaron Crow to throw lots of pitches.

"I thought the turning point of the game was in the bottom of the sixth inning," Childress said. "We only scored one run but we forced him to throw 30 pitches. That's what got him out of the game and allowed us to come back against some of their relievers and get some big hits."

It was clear at the start of the bottom half of the seventh that Crow was gassed, but Missouri stuck with him as he gave up back-to-back walks and an RBI double by Jose Duran before being pulled.

Missouri reliever Rick Zagone came in and walked Luke Anders to load the bases before getting Brown to ground into a double play. Dane Carter scored and Duran advanced to third on the play as Brian Ruggiano stepped into the plate.

But Missouri head coach Tim Jamieson decided to go back to the pen and brought Scooter Hicks in to face Ruggiano rather than leave Zagone in—who started on Tuesday night—finish the inning.

That decision cost him.

Ruggiano fell behind in the count before blasting a 440-foot homerun that landed halfway up the green monster in center field, bringing the Aggies to within two, 8-6, and waking up the 4,668 fans in attendance, and sending the A&M student section into a frenzy that had Olsen Field shaking—literally.

Afterwards, Missouri head coach Tim Jamieson explained his decision to pull Zagone in favor of Hicks, who transferred from Tulane to A&M following Hurricane Katrina before being cut by Childress.

"Zagone started on Tuesday so he didn't have much," Jamieson said. "We wanted to use him in a crucial situation, and Scooter's been great all year. The key was we walked too many people. Not just Aaron but the entire staff. You can't win on Fri night and walk 8 guys it's as simple as that."

In the eighth, the Aggies put additional pressure on the Tigers' pitching staff as Brodie Green led off the inning with a double and scored two batters later on a wild pitch, cutting the Tigers lead to just one run—just seconds before umpires suspended the game due to lightening.

"That was huge to score that run before the weather delay," Childress said.

Aggie reliever Kyle Thebeau—who is No. 2 in the Big 12 in ERA—returned to the mound in the ninth for his second inning of work and he was un-hittable, mowing down the Tigers in order with a wicked off-speed breaking pitch that left hitters bending at the knees.

Thebeau's performance set up a dramatic bottom of the ninth, even though there was little doubt by that point whether the Aggies were going to pull off their second consecutive Big 12 conference comeback of six runs or more.

If there was any doubt heading into the inning, those thoughts disappeared when Luke Anders smashed a single into right-center field. Darby Brown followed with a four-pitch walk, putting runners on first and second with no outs for Brian Ruggiano.

Ruggiano was set to bunt and fouled off two pitches, falling behind in the count. But once again, with two strikes, Ruggiano launched a double into the left-center field gap, scoring pinch-runner Keith McInnerney from second and putting runners on second and third with nobody out for Ben Feltner.

"We talked about ‘Do we bunt him, do we not?' We chose to bunt him," Childress said. "(A&M assistant coach) Matt (Deggs) wasn't real sure and after he hit the double he came over and (kidded) ‘I told you I didn't want to bunt him.' We were very fortunate we got that big hit. Brian is just a gamer."

Feltner was intentionally walked to load the bases and set up the force play at the plate, but that play never happened.

Before Brodie Greene could get set in the batter's box, Missouri reliever Ryan Allen was called for a balk, sending pinch-runner Kirkland Rivers—the fastest pitcher on the A&M pitching staff—in to score the game-winning run.

Greene said afterwards that he was looking forward to the opportunity to drive in the winning run.

"It looked like he flinched just a tad, but I guess the umpire saw it better than I did," Greene said about the balk. "I was really looking forward to getting the big hit, but we'll take it."

I guess they will.

Ruggiano finished the night with three RBI in a 3-for-5 night at the plate, including his two-run homer off the green monster and clutch two-out, two-strike RBI double in the bottom of the ninth.

Stouffer extended his hit streak to 18 games with a first-inning single to left field and Jose Duran extended his hit streak to 12 games with a 2-for-5 night at the plate, including his key RBI ground-rule double in the bottom of the seventh.

The win gives the Aggies a two-game lead over Nebraska, who will play a double-header with Baylor on Saturday after being rained out in Waco on Friday night and all but eliminates Missouri from the Big 12 title talk.

The come-from-behind win was the Aggies 19th come-from-behind win of the season and second consecutive Big 12 comeback after being down by six runs or more after six innings. Out of the Aggies' 16 Big 12 Conference victories, 11 have been in come-from-behind fashion.

The Aggies and Tigers will return to play at 2 p.m. on Saturday as the Aggies try to set a new Big 12 record with 14 consecutive conference victories.

A&M freshman Barret Loux (3-1, 4.50 ERA) will face Missouri's Kyle Gibson (6-0, 3.09 ERA) in game two of this crucial Big 12 series.




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