After struggling mightily throughout regular season SEC play, Texas A&M baseball’s starting pitching may be hitting its stride at just the right time.
After sophomore LHP Troy Wansing opened the No. 10 seed Aggies’ SEC Tournament run with eight scoreless innings with one hit versus Tennessee in a 3-0 win on May 23, freshman LHP Justin Lamkin followed him up with another gem in a 5-0 victory over No. 6 seed South Carolina on Thursday, May 25, in Hoover, Alabama. The Corpus Christi native logged seven shutout frames, allowing just one hit while striking out nine.
An A&M starting pitcher didn’t record a win against an SEC team in the regular season, and Lamkin snapped a 31-game skid in which a starter failed to be credited with a win with 5.1 scoreless innings in an 11-1 triumph over UT-Rio Grande Valley on May 9.
“I just felt really confident, and all three of my pitches and everything was working, filling up the zone, and the team made great plays behind me,” Lamkin said.
In a 6-5 extra innings loss to Arkansas the day before, freshman LHP Shane Sdao logged four innings with just one earned run on a hit and four punchouts.
“I think Wansing, maybe pitching out of the bullpen at Mississippi State was his breakthrough moment,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Lamkin and Sdao are just guys who, they've pitched enough, we've had to use them so much because of our situation that now they have some confidence, and they're not afraid to throw the ball in the strike zone, which is scary to do in this league … It starts with those guys.”
The Aggies got on the board in the third with junior 3B Trevor Werner’s RBI triple to plate junior SS Hunter Haas. As part of a 3-for-4 performance, Werner’s fly ball to the warning track was in and out of the glove of sophomore CF Evan Stone as he crashed into the wall and was slow to get up after the play.
“I thought it was gone, I thought it was out for sure,” Werner said. “Thought I had one out yesterday, too, but we just came from Mississippi State and the ball is flying there, and then we come here … I thought the guy caught it at first but kept running, and he almost made a really great play. But just got a good pitch, put a good swing on it, and just let it go.”
A&M built a cushion for Lamkin with a three-spot in the fourth as senior CF Jordan Thompson and junior LF Ryan Targac led off with walks. Senior 2B Austin Bost brought home the former with a double down the third base line before senior DH Brett Minnich’s RBI groundout scored Targac. Freshman C Max Kaufer followed him with a sacrifice fly to left as the maroon and white grabbed a 4-0 edge.
The Gamecocks didn’t help themselves as junior 1B Jack Moss began the fifth with a swinging strikeout, but advanced to first on a passed ball. Werner’s single put a pair of runners on, and freshman RF Jace LaViolette’s fielder’s choice put them on the corners. Sophomore LHP Matthew Becker was credited with an unearned run as Thompson looped a sacrifice fly to right field to score Moss.
The Aggies hung on for the rest of the morning as sophomore RHP Chris Cortez and senior LHP Matt Dillard relieved Lamkin with three scoreless and hitless frames.
“The goal of teams, especially this time of year, is you want to be playing your best baseball going into the postseason and at the end of the regular season,” Werner said. “I feel like that's where we're at right now with our pitching staff and offense, and we played great defense all year. Just feels like things are finally coming together. We've had our ups and downs this season, but we're reaching the high at the right time.”
A&M returns to action in the SEC Tournament fourth round on Friday, May 26, against No. 3 seed LSU at 3 p.m. after the Tigers fell to the Razorbacks 5-4 on Thursday. A&M and LSU met in the first SEC series of the year, with the Tigers picking up the series win.
Junior LHP Will Johnston will take the mound for the Aggies with a 3-3 record and 5.26 ERA over four starts this season. Previously, he tossed 4.2 frames versus Mississippi State on May 20, allowing just one run in a 15-10 victory.
“Two of his last three outings have been really good since we moved him into the rotation, and this one will be one in which he didn't have to pitch out of the bullpen like a day and a half ahead of that time,” Schlossnagle said. “If we can get a good one out of him tomorrow, regardless of who we play, then I like our chances.”
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