COLLEGE STATION, Texas (Press Release) - Taking one of the nation's top teams to extra innings and going toe-to-toe with them along the way, the Stephen F. Austin baseball had its upset bid come up just short in a 6-5, 12-inning setback to No. 15-ranked Texas A&M at Blue Bell Park on Tuesday night.
A four-plus hour, extra-inning marathon concluded in the home half of the 12th when Texas A&M's Braden Shewmake - the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week - scampered home on a wild pitch from SFA reliever Josh Ponder. The freshman relief arm sent a high throw over the head of catcher Clark Kahawaii on an intentional walk attempt.
Texas A&M's game-clinching run was the first score either team had since Aggie designated hitter Jorge Gutierrez belted a two-run homer to left-center to knot matters at five in the bottom of the sixth.
"In the end of the game, we wanted to avoid the potential of a squeeze play, so we chose to intentionally walk [Cole] Bedford in order to bring Jackson Gore in from the pen to get a more favorable pitching matchup and possibly keep the ball in the infield and make a force-out play," said SFA head coach Johnny Cardenas of the game's final play.
Both squads had chances to end the game in regulation, but neither one could capitalize. The 'Jacks failed to scored with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth and Texas A&M could not drive in the game-winning run with two outs in the ninth. In all, the teams left 21 men on the basepaths and the 'Jacks pitching staff held a lineup that exploded for 50 runs through its first three games of the season largely in check.
"We never talked about their offense," Cardenas continued. "What we did talk about is what we do well and that if we continued to do that, then we would have a chance to knock off a top-25 team at the end of the night. It wasn't an ideal ending, but I'm pleased with how we continued to battle inning by inning."
All of the 'Jacks offense came in the top of the third inning - one inning after freshman Josh Campbell began an 11-hit night for SFA with a one-out double that represented his first collegiate extra-base hit.
The beginning of the end for Texas A&M's starter John Doxakis came when Jarrod Huber started the five-run SFA third by driving a single through the left side of the infield. Following the base knock, Chad Dunlop got pegged by a Doxakis pitch and after Kendrick moved the runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt senior Nick Ramos received credit for an RBI by reaching on a fielder's choice bunt/
Instead of flipping the cleanly fielded bunt to his battery mate at the dish, Doxakis made a dive at Huber who was sprinting toward home. SFA's sophomore catcher eluded the Aggie starter and once video review confirmed that had been the case, the 'Jacks found themselves with a 1-0 lead.
Michener kept the line moving by punching a two-run single to center field and before the top of the fifth was in the books SFA went on to plate two more runs. Stevie Thompson received credit for an RBI by drawing a bases-loaded walk and Gavin Gregory concluded the 'Jacks' five-run frame by blasting a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left field.
In all, 10 'Jacks made a plate appearance in the third inning before the Aggies began their comeback.
The lone SFA error of the game proved to be a costly one as it extended the Texas A&M fourth and allowed George Janca to rifle a two-run triple into the deepest part of center field. Another triple in the fifth from Shewmake eventually turned into the third Aggie run when the freshman was brought home with an RBI single before an out was recorded in the frame.
Chris Hassold gave up the Aggies' game-tying home run in the sixth, but recovered to get the next pair of outs and end any further Texas A&M threats in the frame.
Charged with making sure the game stayed tied, junior Ivan Garcia charged out of the 'Jacks bullpen proceeded to render the Aggies' bats useless during his time on the hill. A product of Heath, Texas, Garcia struck out three and induced three flyouts in a perfect pair of frames.
Poised to take the lead following a one-out double from Clark Kahawaii in the ninth, SFA loaded the bases when Chad Dunlop reached on the Aggies' only error before Tyler Kendrick was intentionally walked. Unfortunately, both Nick Ramos and Zac Michener went down on strikeouts to end the SFA half-inning.
Dodging bullet after bullet as the innings wore on, the 'Jacks worked their way out of a number of jams from the ninth inning on. With the game-winning run on third in the bottom of the ninth SFA called on Tyler Starks to push the game into extra frames. The sophomore did just that, registering final out of the ninth with of a three-pitch strikeout.
Starks followed up his ninth-inning showing with a one, two, three 10th and handed the ball over to fellow sophomore Austin Hearn in the home half of the 11th. Hearn sat down the first two Aggies he faced, but a two-out single and an intentional walk forced the 'Jacks to dig deep yet again.
Staying cool under pressure in the frame, Ponder struck out Homan on four pitches to end the inning. SFA's last scoring chance came in the 12th when Hrinevich and Conner Fikes slapped consecutive two-out singles to the outfield before being stranded on the base paths after Gregory flew out to end the frame.
Fikes, Hrinevich and Michener each had two hits for the 'Jacks in the game and starting pitcher Austin Hagy fired 3.2 innings of five-hit, two-run baseball to keep SFA in it.