Stouffer, Aggies ready for fresh start

After winning the Big 12 Championship, the Aggies stumbled down the stretch. After earning All-American honors last year, A&M second baseman Blake Stouffer has struggled in 2008. None of that matters to the Aggies, who begin a new season on Friday night as the NCAA Tournament begins at Olsen Field.

A photo was snapped 354 days ago that captured a moment in time that A&M head coach Rob Childress wanted his team to remember. The photo was a dejected Parker Dalton walking off the field at Reckling Park in Houston. The Aggies had just been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Rice super regional and Dalton had made the final out of the series. A&M head coach Rob Childress hung that photo in the locker room to remind the Aggies what that loss felt like each and every day that they came to Olsen Field.

A&M center fielder Kyle Colligan wants a different picture hanging in the locker room for the team next year, and he hopes it's taken in Omaha, Nebraska.

"That look on Parker's face says it all," Colligan said after practice on Thursday as the Aggies prepare for their second consecutive NCAA regional at Olsen Field. "Anything less than a national championship will be a disappointment for us. That's our goal, that's what we wanted to do. Our first goal was to win the Big 12 championship and we did that, our next goal was to host a regional and we did that. Our next goal is to win this regional and then win a super regional and then win a national championship."

The Aggies will begin their march towards those goals on Friday against the University of Illinois-Chicago in the first round of the College Station NCAA Regional. And the Big 12 Champion Aggies say they're done thinking about the eight-game losing streak before winning the final game of the Big 12 Tournament against Missouri on Saturday.

"The Missouri win was important, but we didn't really do anything special except execute the routine, it's funny how that's all it comes down to," Childress said. "Barret Loux threw strikes and we made all the routine plays and we won the game."

Picking up that victory allowed Childress to return to the practice field this week with one thing on his mind.

"I think this week for us in practice has been refreshing because we got to go out there and have some fun and get back to the basics and treat this week like a mini camp."

On Monday, Childress told reporters that he would look at the match ups and consider switching his rotation around. But after at least considering it, he announced on Thursday that he would keep his normal weekend rotation (Brooks Raley, Barrett Loux, Clayton Ehlert) intact, adding that it's critical the Aggies stay in the winners' bracket of the regional.

"It's extremely important to stay in the winners bracket, it's tough to come out of the losers bracket," he said. "I think there were five No. 1 seeds that lost on opening day (last year) and only two or three came back to win the regional—we were one of them. You've got to get hot offensively to come out of the losers bracket and win five games."

Blake Stouffer hoping to leave on a good note

Blake Stouffer earned consensus All-American honors in 2007 after batting .398 with 23 doubles, 12 home runs and 85 RBI. But it's been a season filled with struggles for Aggie second baseman, who turned down fourth-round draft money to return to A&M for his senior season—hoping to lead the Aggies to their first national championship in school history.

And while the Aggies have made it back to the postseason, it's been a tough year for Stouffer, who has watched his batting average drop to .252 with just 11 doubles and five home runs and 34 RBI.

But none of that matters to Stouffer heading into this weekend's regional.

"Coach Childress has a great saying, ‘It's not how you start it's how you finish,'" Stouffer said. "This is a great time for me to pick myself up and help my team and get big hits, make big plays. This is my last chance at Omaha and winning a national title."

The Aggies first game of the regional begins on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. against Illinois-Chicago. The winner of that game will play at 6:30 on Saturday night against the winner of the game one between Houston and Dallas Baptist.


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