At the beginning of March, it seemed that Rob Childress had somehow found a way to keep the momentum of the 2015 and 2016 powerhouse teams going into 2017. Sure, they had to replace over three-fourths of their main offensive production from the year before, but they headed to the 2017 College Classic in Houston looking like a team with some real capabilities. And with a 9-0 drubbing of a ranked Texas Tech team, who was fresh off of an appearance in Omaha in 2016, it really began to seem like the Aggies had things figured out. They raced out to a 5-1 lead against then-No. 1 TCU the next day, and carried a 10-5 lead into the ninth inning. This year wasn’t a rebuild. It was a reload, right?
Reality came crashing down on A&M, as they coughed up that five-run lead and eventually lost in 15 grueling innings. They followed that up with a similarly excruciating loss to Baylor, blowing a lead and losing on a walk-off grand slam in the ninth.
The Aggies went on to open their conference slate with five consecutive losses, getting swept by Kentucky at home and dropping the first two games at Vanderbilt. They salvaged the finale of the Vandy series, and that proved to be a launching point. And over the next month, they found their true identity. If A&M was going to climb out of their funk, they were going to do it on the backs of their pitching staff. The Ags rattled off five series victories in a row, including one in Baton Rouge against then-No. 6 LSU and one at home against then-No. 11 Auburn. As they finished off a sweep of Missouri, the SEC West standings were shaping up such that A&M actually had a shot at taking the division crown. At that point, however, they ran out of steam.
As the regular season came to a close, A&M dropped their final three series, and their postseason hopes grew very dim. But after being announced as one of the last four into the NCAA Tournament, their switched flipped back on.
The Aggies headed down to Houston for the UH regional and proceeded to sweep through two-seed Baylor, four-seed Iowa, and hosting UH. For the third straight season A&M was headed to the Supers despite nearly playing themselves out of the tournament entirely. On top of that, they caught a major break, with the pesky Davidson Wildcats taking down the No. 2 overall seed, UNC, in the Chapel Hill Regional. The Ags then took the first two games of the Super Regional.
Lo and behold, the same Texas A&M that started SEC play 0-5 was headed to Omaha; a feat that neither the 2015 nor 2016 teams were able to accomplish, despite being ranked No. 1 in the country at times and ranking in the top 25 in all of Division I in most major offensive categories in both seasons. In a rebuilding year, the Aggies would end their season in the Mecca of college baseball.
Once they got to the College World Series, however, it was clear that they were playing a bit over their heads. They ran into a very, very good Louisville team, before TCU’s Brian Howard ended A&M’s season for the second consecutive year. And while it hurts to be eliminated (again) at the hands of the Frogs, you have to remember that this team put together a highly improbable run. The team that had to replace the vast majority of their offensive production with a bunch of freshmen and a handful of seniors whose combined experience was nowhere near that of the two powerhouse teams that came before it.
Those seniors carried this team through the regionals. Nick Choruby and Blake Kopetsky were the biggest sparks for A&M when the lights were shining brightest. Joel Davis was one of the Aggies’ main run producers throughout the season. Austin Homan and Walker Pennington each had a bit of a down year in terms of production, but they came through in some key situations. Without Pennington’s three-run blast in Baton Rouge, that five-series streak may never have happened. But most of all, these seniors were the glue that kept the team together when the freshmen struggled. They were one of the main reasons the Ags got to Omaha.
Looking ahead to next season, A&M will return three of their top five hitters in Braden Shewmake, Cole Bedford, and Hunter Coleman, as well as Logan Foster and Jorge Gutierrez, who each had torrid starts to the season. On the mound, the Ags will be bringing back Stephen Kolek and Mitchell Kilkenny, as well as Kaylor Chafin, who announced yesterday that he will return for his final season. Add in a bevy of very talented freshmen that are on their way to College Station, and the Aggies may very well be here to stay.