The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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‘A cruel but beautiful game’

Photo by Ishika Samant

Junior ULT Ryan Targac (16) runs to second base during a game vs. Alabama on Friday, May 12, 2023.

Hopes for a heartland homecoming

After a historic 2022 campaign that saw Texas A&M baseball make it the farthest the program has ever been in the College World Series, expectations were lofty for 2023. Returning almost all of its production from last year in names like junior Jack Moss and senior Austin Bost and with impact transfers like former Arizona State junior Hunter Haas, many had high hopes for the Aggies across the country.

Piloted off course

After opening the season with a sweep of the Seattle University Redhawks, things seemed par for the course for A&M to open the season, despite losing senior Brett Minnich in his first at-bat for six weeks due to a hand injury. That is until Lamar — whom the Aggies had scrimmaged against the prior fall — stunned A&M in its first midweek game of the season, defeating them 7-4. Regardless, midweek losses happen all the time in college baseball. All that mattered is the Aggies taking care of business in their weekend series.

In the second weekend of the year against its second West Coast opponent, A&M was upset by the Portland Pilots, who flew into College Station and steered their way to a series victory. It would have been a sweep, if not for a 2-run walk-off double from freshman Jace LaViolette to salvage Game 3. Now the national attention towards the Aggies had turned negative. What happened to the team that made the CWS the year prior?

Rematches new and old in H-Town

In the much anticipated Shriners Children’s College Classic, A&M looked to right its season back on course against a foe with fresh wounds courtesy of the Aggies. The Louisville Cardinals had their season ended by A&M in the Super Regionals last year and were looking for revenge.

Revenge is exactly what they got. The Aggies were only spared being run-ruled by the Cardinals due to a five-run seventh inning, headlined by a three-run home run off the bat of Bost to force A&M and Louisville to play two more merciful innings.

In Game 2 of the weekend against the hometown team, the Aggies looked like the team that won the SEC West the season prior, run-ruling the Rice Owls. This gave them momentum into Game 3 against their old Big 12 rivals.

The matchup of A&M and Texas Tech was the final game of the weekend, and what a finale it was. The Red Raiders were coming into the game hot at 11-1 on the year and were looking to jump on the Aggies to close out the weekend.

In an all-out pitcher’s duel, sophomore Chris Cortez got the start and went 5.1 innings, only allowing one run on three hits. Freshman Shane Sdao gave up another, but only two runs should be manageable enough for an offense to overcome. That is, unless the other pitching staff did the same. Deep into the Texas night, the Aggies battled pitch after pitch against the Red Raiders. Junior Evan Aschenbeck, whose name was almost unknown prior to the weekend, stepped up and delivered 4.2 innings of no-hit baseball, with eight strikeouts to go along with it. Moss delivered the separating run in the top of the 16th inning, and junior Trevor Werner tacked on another to close out the longest game in Shriners Children’s College Classic history, 4-2.

Week 1 against No. 1

It was finally time for conference play in arguably the most difficult conference in college baseball, and what a first draw the Aggies got. In the first weekend of SEC play, A&M welcomed the No. 1 LSU Tigers to Olsen Field, looking to pull off a colossal upset in front of the 12th Man.

In the Friday night game, the Aggies were suffocated by projected 2023  Top 5 pick Paul Skenes, as the right-hander went 6.1 innings and only allowed four hits.

The Aggies fared no better in Game 2, managing to score this time but still dropping the contest 12-7. Now, all A&M was looking to do was avoid a conference-opening home sweep. And avoid that they did, as junior Stanley Tucker laced a single to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning to put the Aggies in front, stealing the final game of the series from the Tigers.


A&M continued to slide, as after winning a walk-off midweek game against a familiar opponent in the Rice Owls, the Aggies hit the road to Lindsey Nelson Stadium to take on the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee was fresh off of a road series sweep at the hands of the Missouri Tigers, so A&M looked to take advantage of the seemingly vulnerable Volunteers.

The illusion of weakness was shed as soon as Tennessee arrived back home, and the Aggies were outmatched from Game 1. The only close contest came in Game 2, as A&M lost via a walk-off sacrifice fly. But the same way a win is a win, a loss is a loss, and the Aggies had to put the sweep behind them with a date lined up with their most storied rival.

The midweek matchup against the University of Texas came with many precedents, as the Longhorns had lost the last three regular-season games against the Aggies and, more importantly, were eliminated by the maroon and white in the College World Series the year prior. It’s hard to keep a good rival down for that long, and for the first time since 2011, “The Eyes of Texas” echoed throughout Blue Bell Park as those clad in burnt orange were finally about to sing for the visiting team from Austin. The Aggies lost 5-2, and the sour taste still lingered.

Regular season round out

After beginning SEC play 1-5, A&M appeared dead in the water. For a team that seemed a shoo-in for a potential national championship run, the Aggies were now in question of even making the tournament at all

Opportunity struck when another struggling SEC opponent traveled to College Station, as the Ole Miss Rebels came with similar problems as A&M. Both programs began the year in the top five, and both had a fall from grace. This series would dictate the trajectory of both schools

After winning Game 1, the Aggies dropped Game 2 to set up the Sunday rubber match. In poetic fashion, junior Ryan Targac gave A&M a spark, or rather, some magic, with a walk-off home run to give the Aggies their first series victory since Northern Kentucky

The streak did not stop there, as A&M went on to rattle off three more conference series victories in a row with wins over Auburn, Missouri and Kentucky. In the stretch of four weekends, the maroon and white now had four series wins under their belt

The streak quickly and forcefully ended at Baum-Walker Stadium, as the Arkansas Razorbacks swept A&M, bringing the Aggies back to Earth. This didn’t stop the maroon and white from reaching cloud nine the following weekend, as they upset the No. 4 Florida Gators at home. The Game 2 victory came handily, as the Aggies run-ruled the Gators 15-2, and Game 3 was another dose of Olsen Magic, this time via a balk-off victory.
In the final home series, A&M welcomed the Alabama Crimson Tide, but the series did not go down without a hitch. After the Aggies took Game 1, rain hindered the flow of Game 2, but finished early thanks to a Crimson Tide run rule. Game 3 was initially canceled due to large threats of inclement weather into the night. However, after much confusion, it was announced it was simply suspended, and the game that was originally scheduled for midday started at 7 p.m. The start time mattered not, as A&M was crushed by Alabama heading into the final conference series.

On the road against Mississippi State, things got off to a rocky start. Despite A&M jumping out to a late lead, the Bulldogs made some home-field magic of their own, walking off the Aggies with a two-run home run to put A&M down 0-1 in the series. Although the emotions could have gotten to the Aggies after Game 1, the maroon and white secured a close victory in Game 2 thanks to ninth-inning heroics from LaViolette, tying up the series. In an offensive affair, A&M finished off the regular season with one final series victory in Game 3. Next stop: Hoover, Alabama.

Bubble, bubble, it’s no trouble

Going into the SEC Tournament as a ten seed, the Aggies were placed firmly on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. So, A&M needed a strong showing to put them firmly into the field and avoid any bated breath come Selection Sunday.

To call what the Aggies did a strong showing would be an understatement.

Sophomore Troy Wansing, who had struggled for most of the season, came into Game 1 of the tournament and pitched eight innings of 1-hit work against a Tennessee squad that swept A&M earlier in the season, moving the Aggies into the next round with a 3-0 victory.

The familiarity did not end there, as the Aggies took on Arkansas next. Despite rallying late to force extra innings, the Razorbacks played spoiler with a walk-off home run to put the Aggies one loss away from going home.

Not to be outdone by Wansing, freshman Justin Lamkin pitched his own one-hit victory in the elimination game against South Carolina in Game 3, allowing the offense to cruise to a 5-0 victory. In the history of the SEC Tournament, there have been nine one-hit games. A&M has three of those, and two came in the same tournament.

Next up was the LSU Tigers, a brutal draw for anyone. After going up two runs going into the seventh, the Aggies got into trouble in the ninth, as a wild pitch scored an LSU run to cut the lead to just one. With two runners in scoring position, junior Evan Aschenbeck forced a strikeout and a flyout, forcing exhales from the Aggies and giving them a rematch against Arkansas 

The fifth time’s the charm. After losing four in a row to the Razorbacks, A&M finally secured a victory in the semifinal round when it mattered most. The Aggies became just the first double-digit seed to ever make the SEC Tournament final, and despite coming up short in the championship game to Vanderbilt, A&M had firmly secured a spot in the postseason.

California Dreamin’

Only one regional was hosted west of Texas, and only one school not from the state of California was in it. Taking the trip to Palo Alto, California, the Aggies packed their bags for the Stanford regional.

In the opening round game against Cal State Fullerton, A&M fell behind early, but the bats ignited in response. The Aggies tallied 11 runs by the fourth inning and were able to cruise to a 12-7 victory.

Their next opponent was the regional host, Stanford. The Cardinal — much like the Titans the night prior — jumped out to an early lead. Despite this, A&M rallied late thanks to a bases-clearing double off the bat of Haas, putting the Aggies one win away from a super regional date with their arch-rivals, Texas.

Unfortunately for the Aggie faithful, the magic faded. The next two games against Stanford, in which A&M only needed to win one, were uncontested. The maroon and white were crushed by their West Coast foe, as the Cardinal simply seemed like too much to handle.

After two quick nights, the Aggies’ season drew to a close in seemingly the blink of an eye.

Baseball is a cruel but beautiful game

Despite the season not living up to expectations, there were many memorable moments. Bost secured his 200th career hit as an Aggie in regional play, LaViolette set the A&M freshman home run record, A&M became the only double-digit seed to make the SEC Tournament finals and plenty of Olsen Magic.

Seniors like Jordan Thompson, Brett Minnich and Bost, who endured a coaching change and COVID-19 before getting to enjoy the College World Series, draw their college careers to a close. Freshmen like LaViolette and Max Kaufer showed signs of greatness, and the foundation was laid for years to come. Now all eyes in College Station turn to the offseason and MLB draft, looking to see what faces, new and old, will be in the dugout at the corner of Bush and Olsen in 2024.

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