Walker Pennington forgot his maroon jersey back in College Station prior to Saturday’s semifinal game against Ole Miss, so when he stepped in the batter’s box wearing jersey number 46 instead of his usual number 9, even the most hardcore Texas A&M fans had to wonder who was batting.
That anonymity lasted only a few moments for the junior outfielder, though, as he waited only two pitches to lift a high fly ball over the left-field wall to give the Aggies a 10-8 lead and effectively punch A&M’s ticket to the SEC championship game.
Closer Mark Ecker tossed two scoreless innings to collect his sixth save of the season, giving the No. 1 Aggies a 12-8 win and putting them in position to play the winner of Florida and LSU in Sunday’s tournament finale.
“Very proud of our team’s toughness today,” A&M head coach Rob Childress said in the postgame press conference. “Giving up the five runs in the third inning all with two outs—to be able to overcome that—I couldn’t say enough about our guys just staying in the game.”
Coming into the game Ole Miss was 38-0 when leading after six innings, and when the Rebels (43-17) gave the ball to reliever Wyatt Short—who entered the game with 11 saves and a sparkling 1.69 ERA—in the eighth with a three-run advantage, it did not look good for the Aggies.
But Short started his outing with a four-pitch walk to Ryne Birk and then A&M catcher Michael Barash hit an RBI single to left field to drive in Boomer White. After a passed ball moved both runners into scoring position, Jonathan Moroney singled to center to score Birk.
That set the stage for Pennington, who pinch hit for Joel Davis with a left-hander on the mound. Pennington watched one pitch go by for a ball, and then an inside fastball from Short caught a little too much of the plate and the TCU transfer made him pay with a monster go-ahead home run.
“I thought that it was going to hook foul when I saw it [off the bat], but somehow it stayed fair,” Pennington said. “I’m not sure how it did but I’m glad it did.”
The Aggies (44-14) took an early lead in the opening inning. White and Birk worked consecutive two-out walks and then Barash doubled down the right field line to drive in White.
A&M scored an unorthodox run later in the inning. Moroney hit a ground ball up the middle, and a low throw from Ole Miss shortstop Errol Robinson took off the first baseman’s mitt of Will Golsan, resulting in Moroney being called safe and Birk crossing the plate.
Jace Vines labored through 2+ innings on the mound for the Aggies, giving up six hits and two runs, but it was the third inning that was especially rough for A&M. Stephen Kolek came on in relief after Vines gave up a single to start the third inning. The freshman was only able to record two outs before getting pulled after surrendering four hits and four earned runs.
However, even after the Rebels jumped out to that 6-3 lead, the Aggies remained confident that they could come back.
“I knew we were going to bounce back knowing that our pitching staff is too deep,” A&M shortstop Austin Homan said. “Ole Miss is swinging the bat well right now—the whole team [is]—but I knew we’d be able to get back into the game. We just had to start chipping away.”
Mitchell Kilkenny logged 3.1 quality innings of work out of the bullpen for A&M, keeping the Aggies in the game and giving them the opportunity to win the game late.
White, who entered the game in a bit of a funk at the plate, was very productive against the Rebels. The junior third baseman went 1-for-3 at the dish with a double, three walks and three runs scored.
“I just tried to keep things simple,” White told SEC Network after the game. “I wanted to swing at the pitch that I tried to get and I wasn’t really chasing. They weren’t really giving me much to hit and I took my walks and put a pretty good swing on a ball when they threw it there.”
The Aggies will go for their first conference championship as a part of the SEC Sunday, as they will square off against either Florida or LSU at 2 p.m. on ESPN2. Childress said that Turner Larkins will likely get the start of the mound and Ecker will probably not be available to pitch.