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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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Texas A&M outfielder Jace Laviolette (17) robs a home run from Florida infielder Cade Kurland (4) in the top of the ninth inning during Texas A&M’s game against Florida at the NCAA Men’s College World Series at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska on Sunday, June 15, 2024. (Hannah Harrison/The Battalion)
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Hitting his stride

Senior+left+fielder%26%23160%3BWalker+Pennington%26%23160%3Bhit+his+second+home+run+of+the+season+in+the+Aggies+7-4+loss+to+LSU+Friday+night.%26%23160%3B
Photo by Photo by: Morgan Engel

Senior left fielder Walker Pennington hit his second home run of the season in the Aggies’ 7-4 loss to LSU Friday night. 

To say that Walker Pennington’s senior season did not start the way he hoped might be the understatement of the year.
He entered the year as Texas A&M’s cleanup hitter and was expected to be a force in the middle of the Aggies’ lineup, but a brutal slump had kept his average hovering around .200 since opening weekend. Pitchers were attacking him with a barrage of first-pitch breaking balls and 3-1 changeups — things he had not experienced much to that point in his career.
It was an incredibly frustrating process for Pennington. He was not being rewarded even when he hit the ball hard, and he wasn’t seeing his hard work in practice pay off in the games.
“I started off hitting some balls hard and not getting rewarded for it, so I started pressing a little bit and trying to do too much,” said Pennington, who is hitting .192 with three home runs in 2017. “When that started, that wasn’t working either. I’ve never struggled this much before, so I lost confidence for a little bit.”
Eventually the coaching staff took him out of the lineup and gave him a few games off. From the bench, he gained some perspective and realized that the number of guaranteed games he has left in his collegiate career is constantly shrinking.  
A&M hitting coach Will Bolt also started his senior season in a slump and, after he talked to his struggling left fielder, Pennington vowed to stop worrying about his statistics — always a tough task in today’s data-driven era of baseball — and start doing anything possible to help the Aggies win.
“You just get to a point where you stop caring about your numbers because it’s not going to be pretty no matter what,” Pennington said. “You just go out there and have as much fun as you can and try to impact the game.”
Last Saturday against LSU, Pennington found himself in a crucial situation. He entered the game in the seventh inning as a defensive replacement and stepped to the plate in the eighth with the Aggies trailing No. 6 LSU 3-1.
He took a ball on the first pitch and retreated near the dugout to apply some pine tar to his bat. During that time, he locked eyes with assistant coach Justin Seely, who pointed to the left-field fence and told him to “take a shot.”
On the very next pitch he did just that, punishing a fastball high and deep to left for a game-winning three-run home run. It was his second home run of the series and served as more evidence that he might be on the verge of a hot streak.
“It’s a tough situation struggling a little bit your senior year, but he’s come up big when we needed him too,” said sophomore third baseman George Janca. “That game against LSU was huge for him and huge for us, and I think he’s just going to build on that momentum and be even better than we expected.”
Although he was struggling at the plate, Pennington continued to contribute to the team defensively and on the bases. He has the strongest arm of any of the A&M outfielders and has registered five outfield assists so far in 2017.
“In the dugout he’s been fantastic, he’s always encouraging. He’s played really good defense and he hasn’t let his hitting leak into the other parts of his game,” Seely said. “He’s always a good teammate but he’s got a better look in his eye right now. He’s starting to feel like he can make a difference.”
Meanwhile, he continued working on his swing. The source of his struggles was timing rather than any kind of drastic mechanical flaw, so he worked with Bolt in the cage to shorten his load. Without so many moving parts in his swing, he has started seeing the ball better, stopped chasing pitches out of the strike zone and is consistently putting himself in hitter’s counts.
And, now that he is hitting down in the order, he is seeing more hittable fastballs. Both of his home runs against LSU came on fastballs, and he is starting to produce at the high level everyone expected at the start of the season.
“He’s been starting to really pick it up and show the potential that he has,” said junior starting pitcher Corbin Martin. “He’s stepped up in a big way for us and I know that when we look back on what was the turning point of our season — that’s definitely going to be it.”
Pennington and the Aggies return to Blue Bell Park this weekend for a three-game series against No. 11 Auburn. Friday’s first pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and will be televised on SEC Network +.
“Walker’s a guy that everybody roots for,” Seely said. “He’s a senior, he’s put a lot of time and effort into this program and he’s gone through a lot in his career. He’s had a lot of big hits for us and we think he’s going to have even more in the future.”

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  • Right-fielder Walker Pennington steps up to bat.

    Photo by Photo by: Kathryn Perez
  • Walker Pennington hit two home runs in last weekend’s series against LSU, including a game-winning blast in the series finale.

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