After a week of horrible weather and heavy rain that ended up causing Wednesday's bout with Northwestern State to be canceled, the Ags welcomed in the then 11-2 Fresno State Bulldogs for a weekend series that featured some excellent pitching, a few WHAMMYs and a bit of Olsen Magic along the way. The Bulldogs' starting rotation has been as good as, if not better than even the best starting rotations around the country. Their three starters, Ricky Tyler Thomas, Jimmy Lambert and Anthony Arias, came into the weekend with ERAs of 1.56, 0.40 and 0.98, respectively. In fact, Lambert had yet to allow a walk in 22.1 innings, and he had earned the previous two Mountain West Pitcher of the Week awards. Their closer, Tim Borst, came into the weekend with six saves in six opportunities and had not yet allowed a run.
Of course, the Aggies had their own studs to throw out there on the mound. Coming off of a Yale series where each of the Ags' three starters, Jace Vines, Tyler Ivey and Kyle Simonds, and their usually outstanding bullpen struggled a bit more than expected, the entire pitching staff stepped up in fantastic fashion. Knowing that runs would most likely be at a premium given Fresno State's excellent starting pitching, they pitched their asses off and led the maroon and white to the sweep.
Now onto the Official GBH Three Gig 'Ems of the Weekend:
: J.B. Moss
The senior went 5-13 this weekend with three doubles, an RBI and a walk. That actually caused his batting average to drop nine points to .417. That's how hot Moss has been at the plate thus far this season. On Sunday alone Moss went 4-6 with two doubles and an RBI. Obviously, with the caliber of the opposing pitching ramped up this weekend, he wasn't going to continue to hit .426, but I suppose .417 will do. I guess. Keep doing the thing, J.B.
: Tyler Ivey
It feels like these recaps are a broken record at this point with how many times I've gotten to talk about just how brilliant Ivey pitched that weekend. Well, this weekend is no different. Ivey was masterful on Saturday, throwing seven innings and only giving up two runs off of a bloop single to right field with two outs. He also struck out 12 of the 25 batters he faced. Is that good? That sounds good. Ivey's performance on Saturday nothing short of outstanding. Keep doing the thing, Tyler.
: Walker Pennington
The little-used junior transfer has struggled a bit out of the gate. He hit like crazy in the offseason scrimmages and certainly looked like he was going to be a major contributor out of the Ags' deep platoon of outfielders, but it hasn't worked out as well as anyone had hoped thus far. Then, come Saturday, he comes in to pinch hit for lefty DH Joel Davis late in the game and squares up a couple of line drives right at the outfielders; something that had happened time and time again throughout the start of the season. Finally, in the bottom of the tenth with runners on first and second and the score tied 3-3, Pennington lines one deep to right-centerfield past the diving centerfielder to score the winning run from second. Howdy, Walker. I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine. This is Olsen Magic... Oh, I see you've already met. Good bull. Keep doing the thing, Walker.
Friday: A&M 3, Fresno St 2
Friday's contest was a true pitcher's duel. Aggies starter Jace Vines went 6.2 innings, while allowing two runs on eight hits, a walk and six strikeouts. On more than one occasion, Vines had to pitch himself out of a jam with runners on. In the top of the fifth, working with a 3-0 lead, he gave up a leadoff double down the left field line. That runner moved to third when the Bulldogs' shortstop lined a single to left field one batter later. The next hitter grounded out to short, scoring the runner at third. Vines was able to escape that inning without any more damage. The next inning, he gave up a towering solo home run to left field. After two quick outs in the top of the seventh, Vines issued his only walk of the night, followed by a single to center field. With the Bulldogs threatening to tie the ballgame, Rob Childress turned to co-closer Ryan Hendrix to finish out the game. Hendrix struggled with his command a bit when he entered the game, issuing a walk to the first batter he faced, but with the bases loaded he struck the next batter out to keep the Ags in front 3-2. In total, Hendrix threw 2.1 innings of shutout baseball, while striking out 4, walking two and allowing two hits.
Like I said earlier, this game was truly a battle between both teams' frontline pitchers. Bulldog lefty Ricky Tyler Thomas was almost definitely the best pitcher the Aggies have faced all year to this point, and outside of a couple of pitches that he left up in the strike zone he was outstanding. Fortunately for A&M, Hunter Melton and Michael Barash made Thomas pay for those two mistake pitches, and gave their pitchers three runs to work with. In the bottom of the second inning, Melton crushed Thomas' 3-2 offering 420 feet out to left field. It was an absolute no-doubt shot, and quite the birthday gift for Mr. Melton. Then in the fourth, with Melton on first after a walk, Barash smacked a two-run shot to left to extend the Aggie lead to 3-0. It's worth noting that Barash went 3-3 with that home run and two singles on Friday. The senior catcher's bat continues to be a very nice improvement to his game.
Saturday: A&M 4, Fresno St 3
As exciting (read "stressful") as Friday night's game was, Saturday's bout between the Aggies and Bulldogs was at another level. Aggie freshman sensation Tyler Ivey faced off against the reigning Mountain West Pitcher of the Week, Jimmy Lambert. Ivey was riding a 16.1 inning scoreless streak, and Lambert had not issued a walk in his 22.1 innings pitched this season. Both pitchers traded zeroes for the first three innings, with only three combined baserunners (two hits by the Aggies and one walk issued by Ivey). In the top of the fourth, Ivey walked the leadoff hitter, before getting the next hitter to fly out to center. The Bulldogs' first baseman then doubled off the right field wall to put runners at second and third. Ivey struck out the next hitter, before a two-out single to shallow right-center scored the first two runs of the ballgame. Ivey would only allow one baserunner in his final three innings. In total, Ivey struck out 12 of the 25 batters he faced, which is down right insane no matter how you look at it. Brigham Hill threw a scoreless eighth and ninth inning, while allowing only one baserunner via walk. He struck out one as well. Mark Ecker took the ball in the top of the tenth, and got two quick outs. He walked the next hitter on four pitches and gave up a single to left to the hitter after that to put runners at first and second. The next hitter, who was batting .100 at the time, blooped a two-strike single to right, scoring the runner from second to make it 3-2 Bulldogs. Senior lefty Ty Schlottmann came on after that and got the next hitter to fly out to end the inning.
The Ags didn't score until the bottom of the sixth. After Boomer White grounded back to the pitcher, Melton drew a walk and Nick Banks got hit by Lambert's pitch to put runners at first and second. Barash grounded into a fielder's choice to short to make it runners on the corners. Ryne Birk then laced a single up the middle to score the first Aggie run of the afternoon. They scored again the next inning thanks to a bases loaded SAC fly off of the bat of Melton to tie the game at two. The next batter, Banks, smashed a line drive back up the middle that would have given the Ags the lead, but it was snared by the Bulldogs' pitcher for the third out. Then in the tenth, Melton and Banks drew back to back walks with one out, before Barash moved Melton over to third on a deep fly out to right field. Birk stepped into the box with two outs and smashed a 2-2 offering at the first baseman. The ball was hit hard enough that it caromed off of the fielder and over toward the second baseman, who bobbled the ball and allowed Birk to be safe at first. Melton scored, and the ballgame was tied at three. (What's up, Olsen Magic? Oh, you've got more? Go right on ahead!) As I mentioned earlier, Walker Pennington then stepped up with runners at first and second and doubled Banks home to win it for the Ags.
Sunday: A&M 12, Fresno St 1
As close as the first two games of the series were between the two teams, Sunday's ballgame was anything but. Kyle Simonds toed the rubber for the Ags and just flat dominated. In seven innings, he allowed only one run (unearned) on three hits and two walks, while striking out three. The only run he allowed came in the fifth inning. After two quick fly outs, the third batter of the inning reached on a George Janca error. That runner stole second before being driven in on a single to right. That was the only real offense the Bulldogs would put up all afternoon. Corbin Martin and Turner Larkins threw scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth, respectively, to close out the game. They needed a combined total of 32 pitches to do so.
On Sunday, the Ags faced yet another Bulldogs starter that sported an ERA under one in Anthony Arias. Unlike the previous two days, however, the Ags' bats could not be held down. They got started early in the bottom of the first inning, posting a four spot. They would add two more in the second to make it 6-0 and drive Arias from the ballgame. They added two more in the fourth (including a Nick Banks RBI triple down the right field line), one more in the fifth, two more in the sixth (a two-run bomb to right by Joel Davis) and one final run in the seventh. Great day at the plate for the Ags. They really did the thing.
Tuesday (6:30) - Texas Longhorns (7-9)
Hoooooooooooooooo boy this should be fun. While the 'Horns are off to a bit of a slow start, as they've lost their last two weekend series, you know those boys from Austin are going to give their everything to knock off mighty Aggy and pick up some much, much needed momentum before they head into conference play.
But I'll tell you what. There are quite a few guys on the A&M roster that were forced to watch Texas dog pile following the final game of the 2014 Houston Regional. They know what this game means to the Olsen faithful. This is also their final test before they start SEC play at Auburn next weekend. They just took care of one of the hottest pitching rotations in the country in Fresno State, and you know they'll be ready to go on Tuesday night. BTHO t.u.