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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&M outlasts Arkansas to advance to SEC Championship

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Photo by Robert O’Brien

Senior LHP Matt Dillard (45) pitches from the mound during Texas A&M’s game against Seattle U at Olsen Field on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

The fifth time’s the charm.
After being swept by Arkansas in the regular season and being walked-off in the second game of the SEC Tournament, the Texas A&M baseball team broke its curse against the Razorbacks in the Tournament semifinals with a 5-4 win on Saturday, May 27, in Hoover, Alabama. The victory advances the Aggies to the SEC Championship, where they’ll face either Florida or Vanderbilt.
“It feels amazing,” senior CF Jordan Thompson said. “I thought the guys did a very good job today, keep pounding the zone, putting together good at-bats. Last time we played them here a couple days ago, things just didn’t turn our way, but today we kept doing what we do, and it felt amazing to get this one.”
A&M continued its postseason streak of quality starting pitching, although it came from an unlikely source against Arkansas, as senior LHP Matt Dillard made his first start of the season. The Sam Houston State transfer was a starter in his final two years with the Bearkats, but has been used exclusively out of the bullpen in 15 appearances with the Aggies.
“Couldn’t say more about Matt Dillard,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Just a guy that at one point was thinking about giving up baseball, and we had a talk this morning in my room about how awesome is this? Felt like he was playing with house money, just go out there and enjoy it, good or bad. There’s no way it could be a bad thing for him with where he was maybe this time last summer thinking about giving up baseball.”
The Houston native logged four scoreless frames, allowing just two hits and a walk with six strikeouts. Dillard gave way to freshman LHP Shane Sdao, who pitched four frames in relief against the Razorbacks on May 24. On Saturday, he tossed 2.2 innings, allowing a run on five hits with four punchouts.
“I was telling the guys before the game, I was like, ‘this is what you lay in bed at night at 11 o’clock and think about, dream about,’” Dillard said. “This is so much fun. You want to be in moments like this. When Coach gave me the opportunity, I was thrilled to have his respect and his trust to go out there in a situation like this, semifinal game. It’s awesome.”
Opposite Dillard was sophomore RHP Brady Tygart, making just his fifth start of the season after returning from injury. A&M tacked him for just one run on three hits and two walks over 3.1 innings with three strikeouts, but it was enough to credit Tygart with the loss.
“Definitely wasn’t the best day for me,” Tygart said. “I had to compete a little bit more than I normally do. I just couldn’t quite find it. But that happens, and glad we got off with as little damage as we did.”
The Aggies did their most damage on redshirt junior RHP Will McEntire after he pitched four innings with just one run on May 24. Saturday was a different story, as McEntire surrendered three runs over 2.1 frames with three hits, a walk and two punchouts. In total, both teams tallied ten hits each.
A&M broke the ice in the third with clutch two-out hitting, beginning with junior SS Hunter Haas’ single. Junior 1B Jack Moss then drew a walk before junior 3B Trevor Werner lined Tygart’s pitch off the right-center field wall to plate Haas on a double. Moss and Werner remained in scoring position, but freshman RF Jace LaViolette grounded out to end the frame.
The maroon and white’s most productive inning came in the sixth with some help from Arkansas pitching. After Thompson got on board with a single, senior 2B Austin Bost doubled down the left field line as Thompson raced home. Walks by senior DH Brett Minnich and freshman C Max Kaufer loaded the bases, and Haas and Moss each drew walks themselves to add two more runs and make it 4-0.
The Razorbacks chipped at the Aggies’ lead in the next inning, with redshirt junior 3B Caleb Cali doubling before junior PH Ben McLaughlin belted an RBI single to left field.
A&M picked up a crucial insurance run in the eighth off the bat of LaViolette. Moss doubled before advancing to third on Werner’s sacrifice fly, where LaViolette picked up his 59th RBI of the season on a line drive single to right field that put the Aggies up 5-1.
“His first couple at-bats, first three at-bats weren’t very good, but like yesterday, Hunter Haas’ first three at-bats weren’t very good, but then the game came calling and he came through for us,” Schlossnagle said. “Every single run you score, obviously that two-out RBI played a massive role in the final score.”
That run proved critical, as the Razorbacks mounted a dangerous comeback attempt in the top of the ninth, kick-started by Cali’s single and third hit of the day. Junior 2B Peyton Holt was hit by junior LHP Brandyn Garcia’s pitch, and, two batters later, graduate SS John Bolton doubled down the right field line to score both runners and bring Arkansas within two.
Looking for the same lockdown pitching that he showed in the Tournament opener on May 23, sophomore LHP Troy Wansing was brought on to keep the Razorbacks at bay and get the final two outs. He allowed just one hit in eight innings in a 3-0 win over Tennessee.
“He wanted to pitch yesterday, no chance I was going to do that,” Schlossnagle said. “I was trying to get through this game without using him, and then for sure, whether it be start or pitch him out of the bullpen a little bit tomorrow, I don’t mind doing that.”
Junior CF Tavian Josenberger welcomed Wansing with a single to put runners on the corners before Wansing caught some bad luck against sophomore DH Kendall Diggs. After playing the hero on Wednesday, Diggs hit a grounder to third base, with Werner sliding to keep it in the infield. The former pitcher threw a bullet to first, but Moss couldn’t hold onto the ball as Diggs was safe and Bolton scored.
Arkansas was now within a run with runners on second and first, still with just one out. Not panicked, Wansing got the Razorbacks’ top two hitters, junior RF Jace Bohrofen and graduate LF Jared Wegner, to strike out swinging to end the ballgame.
“We swung at some bad pitches,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Had two of our best hitters up there, and that was probably the most disappointing part to me about that inning … Obviously, we needed another hit to tie it up, and had the 3 and 4 hole hitters up and a guy throwing pretty much exclusively sliders, and they didn’t find the barrel at all. Congratulations to Wansing. He did a great job finishing us up.”
Come the championship game on Sunday, May 28, at 2 p.m., the Aggies will have played nine games in 11 days. However, the team is playing its best ball at just the right time, much like last season’s squad did as it swept the Regional and Super Regional rounds.
“This is the best I’ve felt about our team and our pitching all season,” Schlossnagle said.

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