One of the greatest Aggie baseball games I've ever seen came two Fridays ago in Lincoln, when a 16-inning marathon concluded at the stroke of midnight and Texas A&M had won their 19th conference game.
The next four that I attended all had a similar flair to them; win the game, win the league. As it turns out, though, there would be no more wins for the Aggies. Thanks to a little help from Missouri and Oklahoma, teams that A&M unceremoniously swept just weeks ago, the Aggies hold sole claim to the 2008 league title – their third in twelve Big 12 baseball seasons.
Don't let anyone, on a message board or a water cooler, tell you that this was a backdoor championship. A&M did in 22 league games what no other team did in 27 – win 19. The last six games haven't been pretty, but the 19-8 league record was enough; tip your hat to the team.
Also tip your hat to Rob Childress and his staff. Childress' crew now has a Big 12 regular season title, which cannot be said for the Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, or Missouri programs. His two pieces of Big 12 hardware (2008 regular season, 2007 tournament title) in three years on the job matches the same number that his predecessor won in nine seasons, and is more than those same five programs plus Baylor and Texas Tech can boast.
A&M is still behind Texas and Nebraska in total league titles, not to mention reaching the final result that everyone is looking for, but it's hard to say the program isn't in great hands right now.
Can the Aggies handle adversity again in 2008?
As nice as the program feels overall, the 2008 team feels like a different story. It was a hustle to 42-8, and were just three outs and a four run lead from 43-8 and no discussion of "chokes" or "curses," but established veterans didn't seal the deal that day nor in any subsequent one. Thankfully, the deal was sealed before that happened, but no one knew until yesterday.
Regardless, Childress has a significant challenge on his hands. Fans who saw both series in person would agree the that the team played better overall against Texas than Nebraska and concede that Texas' arms were superior to the Huskers'. Despite the better play last weekend, the results just weren't there. The timely hits that followed the team for 50 games disappeared in the last week. Players who tore the cover off of the ball couldn't buy a base hit, and the Sunday offensive coaching strategy seemed to employ a desperate search for a hot hand.
Was the team pressing in the shadow of winning the title? Good question. If so, they'll have the monkey off of their back now and play good baseball in Oklahoma City. Given their bracket, they'll have to if they want to earn a national seed and play significant postseason ball at Olsen.
It's hard to think that the pressing isn't the case; you don't play "over your head" for 50 games and then return to normal for the last six. The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding at Bricktown.
Fans quickly forget that just one year ago A&M sat in a similar situation; swept by Texas and our apparent host status for a regional seemed to slip away. The Aggies lost on Wednesday in OKC, then go on to win the tournament title and a regional the next weekend. But that team overcame adversity frequently in the ‘07 season. The 2008 squad has overcome some in-game troubles, but nothing to this magnitude.
No doubt, Childress has his hands full, but he's just the guy to pull the strings. The defense seems to have calmed down and playing more to their yearly level, and the pitching staff threw pretty well against Texas (sans a few mistake pitches that cost them dearly). The bats need to get going, in a hurry, and things could be just fine.
Big 12 Tournament projections
A&M's Big 12 tourney bracket includes #4 Missouri, #5 Texas, and #8 Oklahoma. A&M went 6-3 against that group on the season – and the matchup results are quite obvious.
Look for A&M to threw Scott Migl against OU on Wednesday, then Brooks Raley and Barret Loux in their typical rotation at the end of the week. If we make it to the title game, Clayton Ehlert's the likely hurler (unless he throws in relief of Loux to get us to that game). A&M will likely see Texas' Chance Ruffin again on Thursday, and possibly see Aaron Crow against Mizzou on Saturday – since those two teams are locks for the NCAA tournament and will likely be committed to maintaining a semblance of their rotation. Oklahoma, however, will not be in the postseason without winning the tourney and will throw the kitchen sink to win games.
Best case tournament scenario? A&M wins their first two, and Missouri loses their first two. Such a result clinches the pool championship for A&M by mid-afternoon Thursday.
Celebration and concerns
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