After last weekend's disappointing series loss on the road against Auburn - in addition to getting swept by Fresno State on the road a few weekends before that - it was paramount that the Aggies pick up at least a series win at home against Florida. The visiting Gators made it look like that might not happen after taking the opener on Friday night in an 11-inning affair. The Aggies, however, were able to bounce back from that heartbreaking defeat and pick up wins in each of the next 2 games in order to take the series and get back to .500 in conference play.
The change in the rotation paid dividends for A&M this weekend, as Grayson Long and Tyler Stubblefield both responded well with strong outings in their new roles. Daniel Mengden continues to have some command issues and just hasn't been consistent, but you know he's always going to battle out there even when his stuff isn't where it needs to be. Parker Ray did a really nice job in 2 appearances out of the bullpen after being moved out of the weekend rotation as well.
There are certainly positives to take from the weekend, but there are still a number of issues and concerns moving forward as well. Running into outs on the basepaths is still a big problem for this team, and Coach Sawyers had another head-scratching decision to send Mitchell Nau home in Sunday's game where the throw beat him by what seemed like a couple miles. The Aggies still appear to be an offensively challenged team with only 12 runs in the 3 games this weekend, no home runs, and 7 doubles. It just so happened that Florida also struggles to put up runs in a similar fashion, and A&M was able to take advantage and ride some strong pitching performances to a much-needed series win.
Friday: Florida 5, Texas A&M 3 (11)
For the second straight week, Daniel Mengden struggled to find his command early in the game and it put the Aggies in an early hole. The Gators strung together a single, double (plus an error by Moroney in LF), and another single - all with 1 out - to put 2 runs on the scoreboard in the 1st inning. After a ground out, Mengden would then issue a walk and hit a batter to load the bases before getting out of the jam with a strikeout.
A&M would cut the deficit in half in the 2nd inning, with Jonathan Moroney atoning for his 1st inning error by hitting an RBI double that scored Mitchell Nau. The Aggies had runners on 2nd and 3rd with no out, but somehow allowed the Gators to get out of the inning without further damage. Logan Taylor struck out - and looked completely lost - Jace Statum flew out and wasn't able to get the ball deep enough for a sacrifice fly, and Nick Banks grounded out. Florida would take advantage of escaping that jam by adding another run in the 3rd. A single, hit batter, and another single loaded the bases for the Gators with no outs. 1B Braden Mattson delivered a sacrifice fly to bring home a runner, but Mengden induced a foul pop out and a fly out to again avoid further damage.
Jonathan Moroney again came through for A&M in the home half of the 3rd inning with a 2-out bases loaded single to cut the Florida lead to 3-2. After a pair of scoreless frames, the Aggies would draw level in the bottom of the 6th inning. This time it was A&M 1B Cole Lankford who delivered a clutch 2-out hit to score Jace Statum, who had led off the inning with a single. The Aggies and Gators would then play 4 more scoreless frames, with Mengden settling down and managing to get through 7 innings with the 3 earned runs allowed on 10 hits with 7 strikeouts and a walk. Parker Ray was excellent in relief of Mengden, going 2 innings and allowing just 1 hit and striking out 1 batter. Jason Jester came in to pitch in the 10th, and things started to unravel for A&M. The Gators got a pair of 2-out singles in the 10th, but Jester escaped that jam with a ground out. He would not be so lucky in the 11th inning, as Florida got the first 2 runners on base via a single and a bunt that Jester threw to 2nd and resulted in a safe call that Coach Childress would come out to argue. A sacrifice bunt moved runners to 2nd and 3rd, and after an intentional walk to load the bases Florida drove in a run with a single to RF and another one with a squeeze bunt. Jester would induce a double play ball to end the inning, but the damage had been done.
A&M collected 9 hits in 5 innings against Florida starter Logan Shore, but would manage only 3 hits in the remaining 6 innings against 4 Florida relief pitchers. RHP Ryan Harris essentially baffled the Aggies in 4 innings of work, allowing just a hit and a walk while striking out 3. Aaron Rhodes struck out 2 of the 3 A&M batters he faced in the 11th inning to earn the save.
Saturday : Florida 4, Texas A&M 5
A&M's new Saturday starter Grayson Long probably had some nerves in the 1st inning, but the sophomore was able to pitch around a bases loaded jam to keep the game scoreless. Long began the inning with an error on a grounder down the 1st base line and then issued a walk. A sacrifice bunt by the Gators moved runners to 2nd and 3rd, but Long got a pop out to 3rd for the 2nd out. Another walk loaded the bases, but Braden Mattson struck out swinging to end the inning.
Long settled down to work a 1-2-3 second inning, and then the Aggies exploded for 4 runs in the bottom half of the inning. A pair of singles by Mitchell Nau and Logan Nottebrok started the inning, but Blake Allemand's bunt attempt resulted in Nau being thrown out at 3rd. Jonathan Moroney continued his hot hitting, however, with a single into CF that loaded the bases. Logan Taylor delivered an RBI on a ground out to 2nd, and Jace Statum then delivered a big 2-out, 2-run hit and advanced to 2nd on an error. Nick Banks drove Statum home with a single to stake the Aggies to an early 4-0 lead.
The Gators would get a run back in the 3rd thanks to a pair of singles, but Long was able to avoid further damage by getting a strikeout and a pop out with runners on 2nd and 3rd. A&M would add another run in the 4th inning when Logan Taylor led off the inning with a double, advanced to 3rd on a ground out, and scored on a wild pitch. That would be the last inning for Gators' starter Eric Hanhold, and it would also be the last time that the Aggies would register a hit. Florida relief pitcher Brett Morales worked 4 clean innings, with the only A&M baserunner coming on an error. Meanwhile, the Gators would chip away at the A&M lead with a run in the 5th and 2 in the 6th. C Taylor Gushue smacked a 2-out RBI ground-rule double in the 5th off Long to bring the A&M lead down to 5-2, and then Florida would put together a 2-out rally in the 6th to come within a run of the Aggies. A single and a double by the bottom 2 hitters in the order would be the end of Long's afternoon, and leadoff hitter Richie Martin greeted new pitcher Andrew Vinson with a 2-run single up the middle.
Vinson settled down after that, working scoreless frames in the 7th and 8th and striking out 3 of the 8 batters he faced. Coach Childress elected to go with Jason Jester in the 9th and, unlike Friday, Jester closed things out to earn the save with a quick frame which included a pair of strikeouts.
Sunday: Florida 5, Texas A&M 6 (11)
Freshman Tyler Stubblefield took the mound on Sunday for the Aggies - his first weekend start for the Maroon & White - with a huge opportunity to pick up a series win against a good Florida team. The Aggies were able to get him an early run in the 1st inning, as Nau drove home Patrick McLendon - who led off the frame with a double - with 2 outs. A&M could have gotten more out of the inning, as Moroney was hit by a pitch and Allemand singled into RF but for some mysterious reason Andy Sawyers elected to send Nau - one of the slowest Aggie baserunners - home on the hit. The Gators' right fielder threw out Nau by at least 3 steps, denying Logan Taylor what would have been an opportunity to bat with the bases loaded.
Florida drew level in the 3rd thanks to a 2-out RBI single by 2B Casey Turgeon to score Josh Tobias, who had led off the inning with a walk. A&M would get another run in the 4th, as Logan Taylor smacked an RBI double to score Blake Allemand who had led off the inning with a walk. Krey Bratsen bunted his way on with a single to put runners on the corners with no outs, but A&M was unable to capitalize. Statum popped out on the infield, McLendon popped out on a failed bunt attempt, and Stein flew out to end the threat.
Florida would tie the game back up in the 5th on an RBI ground out, but Stubblefield prevented the damage from being worse as the Gators did have runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. A&M would again answer back, however, in the bottom half of the inning and again it was Taylor coming up big for the Aggies. Cole Lankford and Mitchell Nau had led off the inning with singles, but Moroney and Allemand were unable to advance them. Taylor then delivered a big 2-out double down the RF line that would have scored 2 runs if anyone other than Nau had been running.
The next 3 innings would be scoreless for both teams. Stubblefield finished the game with 6 innings pitched and 2 earned runs allowed on 5 hits and 2 walks to go along with 3 strikeouts. Childress again turned to Parker Ray in relief of Stubblefield, and again Ray was tremendous. The senior worked 2 innings without allowing a single baserunner, and he struck out 3 of the 6 batters he faced. Childress, however, elected to bring in Jason Jester for a 3rd straight day to try and close the game out in the 9th. That is not a decision that I agree with at all - Ray had only thrown 26 pitches and the Florida hitters didn't get a single ball out of the infield against him. Jester, meanwhile, has struggled for most of the season and had already pitched in the fist 2 games of the series. I saw absolutely no reason not to stick with Parker Ray to close out the game, and Childress' decision certainly backfired.
Jester allowed a leadoff single to start the top of the 9th, and after a sacrifice bunt the Gators would get another single to put runners on the corners with 1 out. LF Justin Shafer then laid down a bunt towards the 3rd base line that A&M was unable to field and brought home the tying run. Another single loaded the bases and prompted Childress to pull Jester in favor of A.J. Minter, who came through with a strikeout and Stein caught the Gators' runner on 3rd in a rundown to escape without further damage.
Both teams failed to score in the 10th inning, and after the Gators went scoreless in the 11th the Aggies got things started in the bottom of the inning with a leadoff single by Nick Banks. Statum advanced Banks to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt, but McLendon struck out for the 2nd out of the inning. Troy Stein drew a walk on 4 straight pitches, which was finally the end of the afternoon for Florida's relief pitcher Aaron Rhodes - who struck out 6 A&M hitters in 6 innings of work. Lankford stepped up to the plate with a chance to win the game for the Aggies and, after working the count full and fouling off a couple of really tough pitches, the junior delivered a massive hit down the RF line to score Banks and win the series for A&M.
Fun With Stats
11 - Combined hits by Lankford and Nau against Florida (A&M had 35 total)
5 - A&M hitters with a batting average currently over .300
3 - Number of 11-inning games A&M played this week (Aggies won 2 of 3)
.333 - Jason Jester's batting average against in 2014
.200 - Jason Jester's batting average against in 2013
Coming Up Next
Tuesday (3/25) vs Sam Houston State, 6:35pm
The Aggies will welcome the Bearkats to Olsen Field on Tuesday, wrapping up a 5-game homestand before heading to Georgia this weekend. Sam Houston State had been playing some really good baseball this season until dropping a midweek game to UT-Arlington and then going on the road and getting swept by Central Arkansas this weekend. This will be the first of 2 games between these 2 teams this season, as the Bearkats will again travel to College Station for a midweek game in May.
SHSU has beat TCU and Texas Tech this season, and they split a pair of midweek games against Rice. The Bearkats come in with a combined team batting average of .297, have hit 12 HR this season, and are averaging over 6 runs per game. Their pitching staff has a combined ERA of 2.83 and they have struck out 136 batters while walking 96. Ryan Hendrix will make the first start of his career for A&M in this game; the true freshman from Cypress has allowed 1 run in 4.1 innings of work this year while striking out 4 and walking 3. Sophomore RHP Ryan Brindley has started the last 2 midweek games for the 'Kats, although they have not officially named a starter as of yet.
Friday - Sunday (3/28 - 3/30) at Georgia
A&M will hit the road this weekend and travel to Athens to take on the Bulldogs, who currently sport a 14-10-1 record before a Tuesday game against Clemson. Yes, I typed that correctly - Georgia does have a tie this season, which came this Sunday against LSU as a travel curfew prevented the teams from breaking a 2-2 tie after 13 innings. Georgia has lost both of their first 2 SEC series of 2014 to Mississippi State and LSU, and they have lost a pair of games against each of Florida State and Georgia Southern in addition to losses to Kennesaw State and Georgia State.
The Bulldogs currently have a combined team batting average of .273 and have 5 regular hitters with averages over .300. Pitching, however, has not been a strength for Georgia so far in 2014 as their pitching staff features an ERA of 3.96 and they are allowing opponents to hit for an average of .268. The Bulldogs' rotation is likely to be sophomore LHP Ryan Lawlor (2-2, 5.02, 17 K, 13 BB) on Friday, freshman RHP Robert Tyler (1-2, 1.91, 21 K, 7 BB) on Saturday, and senior LHP Patrick Boling (2-2, 3.26, 13 K, 11 BB) on Sunday.