Baseball: Aggies Clip Horns In Extra Inning, 8-7

With no conference title at stake, with Texas A&M fighting for its post-season life and Texas simply trying to cement its claim on an NCAA Tournament host site, of what significance was the Aggies 8-7 win over the Horns in ten innings at College Station Friday?

Frankly, very little. Unless, of course, the Horns drop this series and then go two-and-out in the (relatively meaningless) Big 12 Conference Tournament in Oklahoma City next week. That might raise serious doubts about Texas' worthiness to host post-season play on consecutive weekends prior to the College World Series, especially now that the Horns are a pedestrian 14-10 in Big 12 play (but 41-12 overall). The Aggies are now 30-24-1 on the season, while just 10-17 in league play. The best Texas can hope for is a No. 3 regular season finish in what is arguably the toughest baseball conference in Division-I athletics. The top eight seeds host a Super Regional and, if the pairings were announced today, the Horns would be rated anywhere from No. 3 to No. 5 despite forfeiting a late-inning lead against in-state rival Texas A&M.

The Horns connected for seven hits while the Aggies answered with nine. Both teams were guilty of three defensive errors. A&M pitcher Kevin Whelan collected the win to improve to 4-1 on the season while reliever J. Brent Cox, one of four Longhorn pitchers to take the mound, was saddled with the hard luck loss to fall to 7-2.

3B David Maroul almost single-handled won this one for the Horns with his first-ever two-homer performance but his throwing error in the ninth proved costly. Meanwhile, the Aggies scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th when backup C Todd Gilfillan let a bases-loaded ball get past him. The freshman subbed for starter Taylor Teagarden after the senior re-aggravated a back injury

A&M entered the contest in ninth place in Big 12 play, aware that only the top eight teams advance to next week's Conference Tournament. In short, Friday's affair in front of a partisan crowd of 7,213 was must-win for coach Mark Johnson and his less-than-vintage Aggie team. Then again, this is shaping up as a less-than-vintage Longhorn team as well.

Texas struck first, beginning with Robby Hudson's hard hit infield single that ricocheted off the glove of Aggie RHP Robert Ray. Hudson reached second on the hit-and-run and reached home on 2B Seth Johnston's RBI single to right field. Head coach Augie Garrido opted for RHP Randy Boone instead of Friday night ace Kyle McCulloch, who gave up three runs on four hits in the home half of the opening frame. An error charged to 1B Chance Wheeless didn't help the Longhorn cause as the Aggies sent ten batters to the plate.

Maroul's two-out solo shot over left field wall in the top of the second chipped away at the Aggie lead, 3-2. SS Cliff Pennington reached on a one-out walk but Teagarden gunned down the Farmer trying to steal second. After the Horns were retired in order in the third, the Aggies got the run back on an infield single as Boone's breaking ball continued to ride upstairs.

Wheeless reached second in the top of the fourth on a leadoff base hit and an error by the Aggie center fielder. But Wheeless was thrown out at second on a base-running error following Teagarden's shortly hit ball to third. But Teagarden re-aggravated a chronic back injury on the play and did not play the remainder of the game. Carson Kainer's two-out double put the pinch runner 90 feet from home. Maroul's shot to left field plated Gilfillan but Kainer was thrown out at the plate attempting to tie the game. The Horns trailed, 4-3. Clayton Stewart made his team-leading 35th appearance in the bottom of the fourth after Boone surrendered six hits in three frames. Johnston was charged with Texas' second error of the evening but Stewart kept three other Aggie batters off the base path.

In the top of the fifth, CF Drew Stubbs reached on a two-out walk and then extended his team-leading streak of stolen bases to 24. But Johnston grounded out to second to extinguish any hopes of a two-out rally. Stewart then retired the side in order.

But the Horns put up a three-spot in the sixth. Wheeless lined the first pitch he saw to left field and advanced to second on Gilfillan's sacrifice bunt to open the inning. Carson Kainer's RBI single up the middle knotted the affair at 4-4. Maroul's two-run shot over the monster in center field regained the Longhorn lead at 6-4. It was enough to send Ray to the dugout after surrendering three runs on three hits in his final inning, as the Aggies went with RHP Kyle Nicholson (3.93 ERA) to end the Longhorn uprising.

Keith Stein centered to left to put runners on first and second after Stewart issued a leadoff walk. Garrido went with LHP Bucky Cody (3.80 ERA) with one out and runners on first and second. (Two weeks ago, I mentioned that no lead is safe with Cody on the mound. It was deja vu all over again at College Station.) Following a two-out intentional walk to load the bases, Cody was charged with a wild pitch to score an Aggie run. Including the intentional walk, Cody threw 12 consecutive balls to walk in the tying run at 6-6. Cody forced a ground out as the Aggies sent eight batters to the plate in the bottom of the sixth.

With the score tied, Garrido went with closer J. Brent Cox in the bottom of the seventh. He issued a two-out walk to Stein but the frame ended with a Parker Dalton popup.

Gilfillan reached first on an infield error in the top of the eighth and advanced to second on Will Crouch's sacrifice bunt. The Farmers turned to Kevin Whelan (3.18 ERA) and his club-leading four saves to try to end the inning. Maroul was fanned after going three-for-three. But A&M C Justin Pouk dropped the ball and then pegged Maroul in the back of the neck as he raced to first. That scored Gilfillan from third to regain the Longhorn lead, 7-6. The Aggies, who lead the Big 12 in team defense, were guilty of two errors in the frame. And Texas scored the go-ahead run without a hit.

Pennington reached on a walk and then stole second to open the eighth for the Ags. Pennington advanced to third on the groundout to third but Cox retired Andrew Baldwin on three pitches, leaving the tying run stranded 90 feet away.

CF Drew Stubbs saw his 19-game hitting streak come to end in a punchless ninth. Ryan Hill's leadoff single to left put the tying run on first base. Maroul was then charged with a throwing error as the Aggies now had runners on first and second with no outs. Powell flied out to left before Cox issued three straight walks. Then, on a 3-2 pitch, 2B Parker Dalton's infield single plated the tying run on a disputed call at first base when the Horns failed to turn the game-ending double-play by a centimeter.

Crouch drew a one-out walk in the 10th and Nick Peoples came on as a pinch runner. Carson Kainer doubled to left field but Peoples was thrown out trying to score from first. Maroul fanned to end the frame. Then, with two outs and the bases full of Aggies, Gilfillan let Cox' pitch get past him as the Aggies plated the winning run to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

The series shifts to Austin with a 6 p.m. first-pitch on Saturday (Fox Sports Net), concluding with Sunday's 12 p.m. season finale on ESPN2.

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