When Texas A&M lost their top 2 pitchers in Tyler Stubblefield and A.J. Minter by early March, expectations for the Aggies were far from high. It would've been possible for some guys to hang their heads and say "Well, it just isn't our year I guess." But this Aggie team did anything but that. They played with a chip on their shoulder and won 24 games to start the season. They didn't drop a series until a rain-altered Arkansas series in mid-April. And despite faltering a bit down the stretch, they roughed up SEC Pitcher of the Year Carson Fulmer in the SEC Tournament and appeared to have done enough to earn a national seed.
Unfortunately, the NCAA Selection Committee chose to award TCU and Missouri State national seeds ahead of Texas A&M, so should the Aggies win their regional they will not host a super regional unless TCU loses. I'm not going to spend any more time debating that, though, as the decision was made and there's nothing that can be done. I'd like to think that this will just be another chip on the shoulder for this A&M team to play with heading into the postseason. This team would surely love nothing more than to prove the Committee wrong by winning a regional and then going to TCU and beating the Frogs in their own super regional.
The Aggies certainly cannot afford to look ahead at a possible super regional match up with TCU, however, as there is plenty of talent coming to Olsen Field for the College Station Regional this weekend. Let's take a big picture look at a statistical comparison between the Aggies, Tigers, Golden Bears, and Chanticleers.
As you can see, the Aggies are definitely the favorite on paper to advance out of their regional. As we all know, however, the games are not played on paper and each of these teams can cause A&M some problems. We'll first take a quick look at the Aggies' match up with the Texas Southern Tigers on Friday evening, and then we'll glance at what both Cal and Coastal Carolina have to offer.
Texas A&M vs Texas Southern
Date/Time: Friday, May 29, 6pm CT
Radio/Audio: 1150AM, 102.7FM; radioaggieland.com
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matt Kent (6-1, 3.74) vs TBA
Common Opponents: Houston (TSU: L, 5-11; A&M: W, 6-0), Dallas Baptist (TSU: L (x4), 5-6, 1-6, 0-15, 1-4; A&M: W, 7-5), Prairie View A&M (TSU: W (x3), 14-7, 16-4, 12-2; A&M: W, 11-2), Houston Baptist (TSU: W (x2), 5-2, 8-4; A&M: W, 4-1),
It finally happened. For the first time that I can remember, A&M Head Coach Rob Childress has elected to "pitch back" to open the regional. Instead of going with normal Friday starter Grayson Long, the Aggies will save Long for Saturday and junior Matt Kent will instead get the nod to open A&M's postseason play. Kent had spent some time in the bullpen for the Aggies, but he got the nod in A&M's second game of the SEC Tournament against Carson Fulmer and delivered probably the best performance of his career. Kent worked the full 9 innings against the Commodores, allowing just 1 run on 4 hits and a walk and striking out 6.
The Tigers have not officially announced a starter for Friday's game, but it could realistically be any of the 3 pitchers listed in the graphic above. As you can also see, Texas Southern's biggest threat is stolen bases. The Tigers have the second-most steals in the NCAA this season with 136 in 170 attempts, so that will certainly be something to watch anytime they get a runner on base. This could also have played into Coach Childress' decision to start Matt Kent - Kent walks very few batters, and as a lefty he is able to hold runners a little closer to first base. Texas Southern is not much of a power-hitting team, but if they are able to get runners on base they can cause some trouble.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Tigers are even more sloppy when it comes to fielding than the Aggies are; Texas Southern has committed 87 errors to A&M's 70 on the season. Realistically, this is a game that A&M should handle comfortably to move into the winners side of the regional.
The Chanticleers (which, I've learned via the Google, is some sort of fierce rooster) come to College Station as a dangerous but very banged up team. Catcher Casey Schroeder (.230, 8 2B, 13 HR, 31 RBI), the team's leading home run hitter, is dealing with a rib cage injury and back muscle issues, so he could end up missing the entire weekend. The Chanticleers' ace pitcher, Alex Cunningham, is out with a forearm injury and their second starter, Austin Kerr, is having some elbow issues that may cause him to miss the weekend as well. Should Coastal Carolina find themselves on the losers side of the regional, they may not have the pitching to be able to get out without those 2 starters.
Coastal Carolina certainly is not lacking in the offensive department, however, as they finished the season with just 1 fewer home run than A&M (albeit in 1 more game) at 60 on the season, good for 10th most in the country. In addition to the hitters listed in the graphic above, you'll want to keep an eye on G.K. Young and Connor Owings, both of whom have 9 home runs this season as well as 49 and 48 RBI, respectively. The Chanticleers' leading hitter is actually Anthony Marks, who isn't a power guy (0 HR) but leads the team in average (.351) and is second in on-base percentage (.432) and stolen bases (17).
Common Opponents: South Carolina (CCU: W, 9-8 (11); A&M: W, 15-14, L (x2), 7-9, 7-8)
While A&M was handed a pretty favorable 4 seed in the College Station regional, the same cannot be said of the 3-seed Cal Golden Bears. There was a point in the season when Cal was in the mix for potentially being a regional host, and although they faltered a bit they still finished with a solid 18-12 record in Pac-12 play and a Top 40 RPI. As always seems to be the case with Cal - and a lot of west-coast teams in general - the Bears are loaded in the pitching department, so they are definitely a team that can battle their way out of the losers side of the regional and still challenge for the regional crown.
Of the pitchers listed in the graphic above, Ladrech and Bain are potentially the 3rd and 4th starters, respectively, for Cal coming into this regional. Sophomore Daulton Jeffries (5-5, 3.12, 72 IP, 67 K) will likely start things off in the regional for Cal, followed by Ryan Mason (6-3, 3.18, 90.2 IP, 38 K). The Bears' bullpen is also very talented, starting with Erik Martinez (listed above) and ending with closer Dylan Nelson (2-1, 3.46, 8 SV, 26 IP, 34 K). Cal is not quite as impressive on the offensive side of things, but the 3 hitters listed above (Paul, Erceg and Pearson) are certainly the ones to be careful with.
Common Opponents: N/A
From the Aggies' perspective, they would almost certainly prefer to see Coastal Carolina take the first game from the Golden Bears. Should Cal drop their opener and A&M win theirs, the very soonest the Aggies would face the Bears would be Sunday afternoon. Although this is pretty much stating the obvious here, A&M very much needs to win their first 2 games this weekend if they want to avoid being knocked out of their own regional. I don't think the Aggies have the pitching depth right now to be able to play 5 games this weekend and advance, especially when a team with a pitching staff as deep as Cal's is involved.
Here is the graphic schedule for the College Station Regional (these times are Eastern):