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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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A&M trades in SEC West for West Coast at Palo Alto Regional

Photo by Robert O’Brien

Junior LHP Will Johnston (15) pitches from the mound during Texas A&M’s game against Tarleton at Olsen Field on Tuesday, May 2, 2023.

The Texas A&M baseball team’s trip to Palo Alto, California for the Stanford Regional of the NCAA Tournament will be a first for coach Jim Schlossnagle, as the Aggies’ skipper has never been to that neck of the West Coast in his 22 seasons as a head coach.
On the other hand, other aspects of the regional will be familiar to Schlossnagle, starting with A&M’s opening matchup with No. 3 seed Cal State Fullerton at Sunken Diamond on Friday, June 2 at 9 p.m. As head coach at TCU from 2003 to 2021, Schlossnagle and the Horned Frogs met the Titans 19 times, with TCU capturing seven victories.
Cal State Fullerton’s program has undergone personnel changes since last facing Schlossnagle in 2019, with coach Jason Dietrich in his second year leading the team. He’s compiled a 53-55 record after relieving Rick Vanderhook, who tallied a 322-225 mark from 2012 to 2021. The Titans are tied for the fifth-most national titles in college baseball, with four championships in 1979, 1984, 1995 and 2004.
What’s remained the same, though, is the Titans’ style of play as they make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2018. They enter the regional having lost seven of their last ten games.
“Cal State Fullerton is a team that is going to play the classic Cal State Fullerton way, which is really good fundamental baseball,” Schlossnagle said. “They’re going to put pressure on you with the bunting, short game and run.”
Depending on the outcome of Friday’s game, the No. 2 seed Aggies will take on No. 1 seed Stanford or No. 4 seed San Jose State on Saturday, June 3. A&M is not only an outsider in the regional geographically, but in its type of play as well.
A&M got a serving of that “West Coast” style of baseball in the first week of the season with bouts against Seattle and Portland. After sweeping the Redhawks, the Aggies were punched in the gut with a series loss to the Pilots. Seattle finished its season 21-32, while Portland went 31-23. Even within SEC play, A&M has faced opponents that can prepare it for what Cal State Fullerton has to offer.
“I think the thing about our league is it prepares you for everything,” Schlossnagle said. “We have teams like [Vanderbilt] and Kentucky that put pressure on you with the bunting game.”
The Titans feature several All-Big West selections in their lineup, led by junior OF Nate Nankil, a First Team selection with a .307 batting average, five home runs and 38 runs batted in. Junior UTL Caden Connor made the Second Team with a .333 clip, four long balls and 40 RBIs.
Senior INF Zach Lew was an Honorable Mention with a .279 average, team-high seven home runs and team-high 43 RBIs. Junior C Cole Urman rounds out the All-Conference selections as an Honorable Mention while hitting .269 with three homers and 29 RBIs. Cal State Fullerton has just 34 home runs this season compared to 81 by A&M.
The Aggies’ top hitters, junior 1B Jack Moss and junior SS Hunter Haas, carry a bit of experience versus the Titans from their 2021 freshman seasons at Arizona State. Haas is 4-for-11 with four RBIs over three starts against Cal State Fullerton, while Moss is 1-for-2. Senior RHP Carson Lambert, a USC transfer, has appeared in five games versus the Titans, allowing seven runs over 5.1 innings while picking up a win.
“Playing Fullerton, they’re maybe going to play a little more small ball than we’re accustomed to,” Moss said. “They’re going to bunt a good amount, they’re going to get some runners going, but I trust our pitching staff and our defense to handle that.”
The Aggies aim to continue the momentum they built up with a run to the SEC Championship last week, particularly with their success on the mound. A&M pitchers held opponents to 14 runs over the first five games of the Tournament, including 1-hit shutouts versus Tennessee and South Carolina.
“There was a freedom that everyone pitched with last week, especially the starters,” sophomore LHP Troy Wansing said. “We didn’t really go into Hoover [, Alabama] with a ton of expectations and I think that kind of allowed us to play free and just do our thing and execute pitches.”
After an A&M starter failed to record a win in the SEC regular season, the maroon and white received season-best performances from Wansing, freshman LHP Justin Lamkin and senior LHP Matt Dillard. With the potential of playing up to five games in the regional, the pitching depth the Aggies have developed will be key to outlasting the competition.
“I think those guys are confident and I think it was more than a one-time thing,” Schlossnagle said. “If we don’t [stay in the winner’s bracket], then we’re going to get either tested or exposed, depending on how you look at it, because it’ll take a lot of people to get through a regional if you lose a game.”
A&M opening the regional with a win on Friday is especially significant from this perspective, as a loss would force the Aggies to win four straight games to advance to the Super Regionals. Additionally, a victory is important for maintaining high team morale and confidence.
“I think setting the tone is big,” Wansing said. “I think just in a game or for a week, the guy that goes out there first, if they set the tone, I think that’s huge … Being able to feed off that and seeing other guys have success and know that you can have success is huge.”
While Schlossnagle has yet to announce A&M’s Friday starting pitcher, whether it be Lamkin or junior LHP Will Johnston, Cal State Fullerton will trot out senior LHP and All-Big West Honorable Mention Tyler Stultz. As the Titans’ leading starter, he carries a 7-4 record with a 4.53 ERA and can be expected to follow a pitch repertoire emblematic of the “West Coast” brand of baseball.
“We may face a little more breaking balls and offspeed than maybe we’re accustomed to,” Moss said.
While Cal State Fullerton’s style of play isn’t seen by A&M often, Stanford brings a familiar challenge.
“Stanford is actually more of an SEC type team,” Schlossnagle said. “Big arms, big power. That’s something that’s going to be a huge challenge should we get the opportunity to play them.”
As A&M reenters the D1Baseball Top 25 after a nine week absence at the No. 25 spot, the Cardinal sit at No. 6 as one of the top offensive programs in the country. With a team batting average of .317, Stanford is led by junior C Alberto Rios, as the Pac-12 Player of the Year boasts a clip of .403 with 17 long balls and 66 runs batted in. Rios is one of seven Cardinal batters hitting over .300 on a team with 102 home runs.
Junior UTL Tommy Troy complements Rios with a .394 average, 14 home runs and 46 RBIs. Junior 1B Carter Graham has been hitting .326 with 15 homers and a team-high 69 runs batted in, while sophomore OF Braden Montgomery is batting .330 with 15 home runs and 54 runs batted in.
Like A&M, San Jose State comes into the regional with momentum built during its conference tournament. The Spartans earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with their victory in the Mountain West Tournament, taking down Fresno State twice and Air Force three times.
San Jose State carries a .284 team batting average as opposed to A&M’s .269 clip. Five players are hitting over .300, compared to just two for the Aggies, led by junior SS Theo Hardy and redshirt junior 1B Hunter Dorraugh at .337 and .336, respectively. Redshirt junior 3B Dalton Bowling leads the Spartans with 11 home runs and 52 runs batted in.
“[We’re] not just happy to be here, we’re trying to win,” coach Brad Sanfilippo said. “Trying to figure out a way that we can win this regional and move on. Right now, there’s not anything special that we’re doing, it’s about the guys and our guys are ready to go. We need to pitch well and play some defense and create some offensive opportunities, find a way to cash those in.”
After playing nine games over 11 days at the end of the regular season and SEC Tournament, the Aggies have been battle-tested against top-notch competition. As regionals carry the possibility of playing five games over three days, endurance will be key to a successful showing at Stanford.
“Once you play through an SEC Tournament, I don’t want to sound elitist or anything, but you’ve seen everything there is to see,” Schlossnagle said. “As long as they don’t make it any bigger than what it is, then we’ll be fine. That’s the beauty of our conference, is you’re prepared for every environment.”
A&M’s 10-4 loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship served as an emotional ending to a surprise Tournament run. Now, the Aggies hope to use that defeat as motivation as they look to put together another successful string of games.
“We still have a sour taste in our mouth from not winning that last game,” Washing said. “I think that was something that we all really wanted, we talked about it for so long and I think that sour taste is going to carry over into this weekend.”

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Luke White
Luke White, Sports Editor
Luke White is a junior telecommunication media studies major and sport management minor from Round Rock, Texas. He has served as head sports editor since May 2023.
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