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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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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

A freshman progression

 
 

The pitcher’s mound is considered one of the loneliest positions in sports. When five true freshmen made their college debuts on Olsen Field this season, another emotion gripped them on the mound – security.
Grayson Long first took to the mound as early as the third game of A&M’s season against the University of Illinois-Chicago, throwing one inning as a relief pitcher. The freshman said he felt assured of his defense, allowing him more focus on pitching and less on nerves.
“You have to trust yourself and trust the people behind you and it will all work out,” Long said. “You have to tell yourself, ‘with the guys behind me, I don’t have to go out there and make a perfect pitch every time. If I miss high, miss low or the guy hits it, I still have one of the best defenses in the country behind me.”
Since the arrival of head coach Rob Childress in 2005, A&M has surged as a pitching-centric program, churning out 26 MLB draftees – including two first round selections. The recent success has proven to be a magnet for high-caliber pitching talent from around Texas, from which the five freshmen hail.
Childress’ baseball philosophy strategizes around pitching, displaying that a pitcher’s success on the mound serves as the engine driving a winning program.
“It all starts on the mound,” Childress said. “You’re only as good as the guy who has the ball in his hand when the game starts. Those young guys have done a great job – they go out and throw strikes and make the other team earn everything they get.”
On the year, only one of the five true freshmen – Long – has made a start for the Aggies, notching a 3-1 record in six starts. The other four – A.J. Minter, Ty Schlottmann, Matt Kent and Andrew Vinson – have all contributed from the bullpen, combining for 41 appearances and 39 innings pitched.
The young group has embraced its role in the Aggies’ loaded bullpen, garnering key outs in late innings to finish tight matchups. Kent said much of the credit rests on the experience of his defense and, particularly, junior catcher Troy Stein.
“It doesn’t matter what time of the game we come in,” Kent said. “We know who’s going to be behind the plate and Troy [Stein] is going to give us a good glove to throw to. He receives the ball well – one of the best ever had behind the plate.”
As a former pitching coach, Childress has developed methods to increase his players’ effectiveness over years of training. Vinson, who has only had months with his new head coach, said he has already begun to notice a tougher range of pitches to attack batters with.
“Coach [Childress] has definitely added a lot to our abilities,” Vinson said. “We definitely aren’t at our full potential yet. He’s helped us become more competitive, more effective, and makes our [pitches] even better, but we definitely have a long way to go. The more experience you get, the more you learn to trust yourself on the mound.”
Childress said starting his players earlier with smaller roles provides invaluable experience down the road.
“The more opportunities we can give them the better they’re going to be,” Childress said. “I’m very proud of the young guys being able to throw in the schedule. It’s been a challenge and its only going to continue to be that way. They have to grow up on the job.”
Unfortunately, that type of philosophy comes with a snare for the true freshmen. Kent, Long and Vinson all hold three of the team’s top six earned run averages – one of the downsides of learning on the run.
For sophomore Cole Lankford, the Aggies’ first baseman, the other members of the team remain confident in the bullpen and some of its best assets, the newly indoctrinated freshmen five.
“The guys never lose faith,” Lankford said. “The guys in the dugout always have our back. This team is always together; it’s not split up. It’s not pitchers, it’s not guys in the dugout, it’s not offense; it’s all of us together and we’re one team. It’s a marathon; it’s not a sprint.”

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