What a difference a couple weeks make. The Aggie Baseballers were reeling, having lost the first three series of their SEC schedule. The first two came against Top 10 ranked squads. Both of those series featured at least one game in which A&M shot themselves in the foot with errors that led to unearned runs. Playing clean baseball probably wins them at least one of those series. They sat in a 3-6 hole, just one game out of the basement in the league standings. Fast-forward 14 days, and the Aggies finally have their heads above water. They’ve climbed above .500 in SEC play for the first time this season at 8-7, and their RPI jumped up to 11 according to both D1Baseball and Warren Nolan.
The bad news here is that, RPI-wise, the level of competition has dropped since the beginning of this turnaround. Both LSU and Alabama sit in the 40s on both RPI scales mentioned above, and next weekend’s opponent (Tennessee) is even lower. The good news? The offense is beginning to find its stride, scoring 42 runs over their current five-game winning streak, including three separate outbursts of nine runs or more. There’s still a few things to shore up on defense, especially the errors. But one thing that can cover up lackluster defense is a good offense. Hell, the 2015 team finished dead last in fielding% in the SEC, and they came close to winning the conference. As we all know from the 2013 football season, poor defense is 1000000% not a recipe for success, but continued offensive success will give A&M more time to fix their problems in the field.
This weekend, the Aggies took care of business against an Alabama team on the upswing. The Tide had already matched or surpassed their win totals in the SEC and overall records from last year, respectively, and it only took four conference series for them to do so. This sweep is more important for A&M than it appears on paper. It’s a confidence thing, for sure. A sweep of a conference opponent will always give the team a confidence boost, especially in a league where sweeps are hard to come by. Arkansas is a consensus Top 5 team and currently leads the SEC West, and they weren’t able to sweep South Carolina (20-16, 6-9 SEC). The SEC regular season crown is usually won by a team that finishes somewhere around 20-10 in league play. With seven SEC losses already on their ledger, A&M’s room for error is very small. Despite the fact that Florida looks every bit the juggernaut we all thought they were (they lead the SEC at 12-3 as of now), there is still an outside shot for A&M to reach 20-10 and make this thing interesting.
- The Aggie offense tallied eight combined runs in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings to come from behind and snag their first SEC series opener of the season. Alabama jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third, thanks to two unearned runs. A&M countered, with two in the third and two more in the fourth. After Alabama posted another three-spot in the sixth, the Aggie bats went to work. Cole Bedford smacked a solo shot to left in the sixth, and he knocked in a pair on a double in the seventh to give A&M a 7-6 lead. A&M then scored five runs in the eighth, capped off with a two-run single by Bedford to give him five on the night, and push A&M’s lead to the 12-6 final score.
- John Doxakis wasn’t at his best, but a two-out error in the third kept him out on the mound much longer than he should have been. He needed 13 additional pitches to get out of the inning, likely diminishing his longevity in the game. His final line: five runs (only three earned) on five hits and three walks, while striking out four in his five innings.
- Cason Sherrod and Nolan Hoffman shut the door on the tide, combining for 2.2 scoreless innings to close it out. The duo allowed just three hits and two walks (with one of the intentional variety), while striking out three.
- Michael F. Helman paced the Aggie offense, as his three-run WHAMMY capped off a five-run second inning. From there, A&M would post a single run in each of the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth. Will Frizzell and Cam Blake each posted multi-hit games, while Hunter Coleman drew two walks and scored three runs.
- The error bug reared its head yet again, as three more two-out errors directly led to five of Bama’s six runs. Luckily, three of those runs came in the ninth, with A&M leading comfortably 9-3, but this kind of play is what will doom the Aggies going forward. They have to shore this defense up.
- Mitchell Kilkenny was excellent once again. His final line: three runs (one earned) on six hits and four walks, while striking out eight in 5.2 innings. Had it not been for the errors in the fifth and sixth, Kilkenny would have easily made it through six innings of one-run baseball. With the win, he moves to 8-0 on the year. The big takeaway from his record is not the number of wins (pitcher wins can be super deceiving, but I’ll save that for another day), but the zero in the loss column. There’s only been one start this season where Kilkenny wasn’t really, really good. In that start, he only allowed three earned runs, which means that he’s given A&M a chance to win every time he’s taken the mound. Keep doing the thing, Mitchell.
Saturday: Texas A&M 3, Alabama 2
- Stephen Kolek got the start for the Aggies, and he totally redeemed himself for his recent struggles. In 7.2 innings, he allowed just one run on three hits and three walks, while striking out three. The lone run came in the eighth with two outs, when Alabama’s home run leader, Chandler Taylor, demolished a 3-2 pitch over the wall in right for his 11th on the season. Considering 11 of Taylor’s 29 hits on the season have been homers, it’s hard to fault Kolek too much since Taylor is basically putting up Joey Gallo-like, three-true-outcome-type numbers (11 HR, 29 BB, 34 K). This was a great bounce-back start for Kolek.
- Unfortunately, Nolan Hoffman gave up a game-tying, pinch-hit RBI double with two outs in the ninth. The game went into extras, Hoffman maneuvered an eventful top of the 10th. With two outs and bases loaded, he struck out Bama’s seven hole hitter to end the inning. He then worked an easy, eight-pitch 11th. In the bottom half, with one out and runners at first and second, Braden Shewmake conjured up some Olsen Magic. He singled to center, scoring Michael F. from second to win the ballgame 3-2.
In the final game of an eight-game homestand, the Aggies welcome Texas State this Tuesday night. The Bobcats come in at 20-15-1 overall and 8-7 in the Sun Belt, having swept Georgia State on the road over the weekend. They scored 29 runs combined in the three games in Decatur, so yeah. Offense. First pitch is slated for 6:32 pm. See y’all at Olsen!