Childress uses juco guys in speedy turnaround

After a last place finish in 2006, Rob Childress has his Aggies positioned for a national seed and a Big 12 Championship, thanks in large part to the success of junior college transfers. Aggie Websider's Dallas Shipp takes a look at the four key transfers and visits with Childress.

When Rob Childress took over as head coach of the Texas A&M baseball program in 2006, he knew there was work to be done. He knew that there would be tough personnel decisions. There would be attrition. And he would have to bring in players that fit his hard-nosed style of play.

But just two years after finishing in last place in the Big 12, with a record of 25-30-1, Childress has his Aggies ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation and playing for the regular season Big 12 Championship this weekend in Nebraska. While that may seem like a quick turnaround, it doesn't surprise Childress.

"In my heart of hearts I saw it happening (this) quick," Childress said. "I hate losing more than I enjoy winning. It was just a matter of getting our players in here and getting them all on the same bus and heading in the same direction and being committed to what we're trying to do as a group. I knew we would win and do it with our kind of guys if we got the right kind of players in here."

After several players left after the arrival of Childress, he and his staff decided to go the junior college route to try and fill immediate needs.

That strategy has paid off, even if it did take a year for most of the transfers to find their groove at the plate.

"So many times when you recruit a junior college transfer and I guess more importantly a hitter, it takes a year for them to adjust to the high level of pitching they face day in and day out," Childress said. "For some guys there is that one year adjustment period."

That was the case for Dane Carter, Darby Brown and Brian Ruggiano, who all struggled to find their groove during their first season under Childress last year.

Brown has raised his average by .030 this season, up to .353 after hitting .322 in 2007. Ruggiano improved his average by .080, hitting .335 so far this season after batting .255 a year ago.

But Dane Carter has taken his play to a whole new level this season.

Carter hit just .203 as a junior, but is among the top 50 hitters in the nation this year with a .411 clip. He's scored 40 more runs already this year with five games to play and has knocked in nearly five times as many RBI as he collected in all of 2007 (54 in 2008, 11 in 2007). He's hit 10 doubles after stretching just two last season, with eight home runs (just one HR in 2007) and a nation-leading eight triples.

"He's definitely been the straw that's stirred our drink offensively—and defensively as well," Childress said. "He's really solidified us at the third base position."

Childress said that Carter's improvement is more of a testament to his mental development rather than anything he's done physically.

"He may be a little bit stronger than he was as a junior, but when you recruit a kid out of junior college he's pretty much a man physically," Childress said. "Then it's adjusting mentally and playing in front of 5000 people is different than playing in junior college or high school."

Ruggiano, Brown and Carter combined for 58 runs in 2007, but have already scored 148 this season. They've seen their home run totals go from three last year to 25 so far this season.

But one junior college transfer did not need the year to adjust to life in the Big 12.

Aggie shortstop Jose Duran has stepped in and filled the shoes left behind by All-American Brandon Hicks, who decided to leave school before his senior year.

Duran is batting .396 this season with 50 RBI, four home runs, 11 doubles, seven triples and 48 runs scored.

The shortstop's offensive production has surprised Childress.

"He was going to be in the same boat as Dane, and was in an ongoing battle at shortstop with Brodie Green, and offensively, he didn't do a lot to wow us in the fall," Childress said. "But once the lights came on and we put on a uniform and started playing for real, he just took off. He does an incredible job staying inside the baseball, he's got a great swing and it's hard to get him out the same way each and every time."

But what Childress likes more than anything about Duran is his competitiveness.

"He's a lot like we are, he hates to give away at bats. He could go 3-for-4 and he's upset about the time he got out," Childress said.

All in all, the four major offensive contributors with junior college experience on their transcripts have accounted for 146 of the Aggies 396 runs scored (37 percent), 29 of the Aggies' 61 home runs (48 percent) and 194 of A&M's 368 RBI (53 percent), and are all among the top-five hitters on the Aggies' roster, hitting .335 or better.

Now Childress hopes that his junior college transfers can help him take the next step in his turnaround by claiming the program's first regular season Big 12 Championship since 1999.

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