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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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No. 19 Aggies face South Carolina to start conference play

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Photo by Jaime Rowe
Junior INF Koko Wooley (3) celebrates during Texas A&M’s game against UTSA on Feb. 25, 2024 at Davis Diamond. (Jaime Rowe/The Battalion)

No. 19 Texas A&M starts SEC play with a weekend series against No. 22 South Carolina at the Davis Diamond that begins Friday and concludes Sunday.

A&M is 19-2 through its first 21 games with its two losses coming within only one score. The Gamecocks are 18-2 to start the 2024 season and are coming off a seven-game winning streak going into conference play.

South Carolina currently holds a four-game winning streak over the Aggies’ heads, as all four losses came from the 2023 season where the Gamecocks swept the Aggies in their conference play series and knocked them out of the SEC tournament.

Both the Gamecocks and Aggies have chips on their shoulders going into conference play. South Carolina’s record entering conference play last year was 21-2 before ending the season at 40-22 after stumbling with a 9-15 SEC record.

However, during the 2023 SEC tournament, the Gamecocks were able to win three straight games on their way to making the championship game. A good start to the SEC against a ranked opponent could recreate some of the magic that South Carolina had in last year’s tournament.

As for the Aggies, coach Trisha Ford’s second season in College Station comes with expectations. A&M finished 12-12 in the SEC for a seventh-place finish last season, which is the best the Aggies were able to do since 2018 when they went 13-11 for a sixth-place finish. The Aggies face an uphill battle to improve on last year’s SEC record, as six teams in the SEC remain nationally ranked above the Aggies.

As for how both squads are playing this season, the Maroon and White have had an explosive offense all year. In 21 games, they had 30 home runs and an average of 1.43 homers per game.

A&M’s offense has five players with five or more homers; senior 2B Rylen Wiggins and junior RF Allie Enright have five home runs on the year and seniors 1B Trinity Cannon, C Julia Cottrill and CF Jazmine Hill each have six of their own.

The defense for the Aggies isn’t much different than their offense in terms of how well they have played so far this year as A&M has shut out one-third of their opponents with seven shutouts.

Leading the pitchers for the Aggies is junior LHP Emiley Kennedy, who is fourth in the nation in strikeouts with 84 in 13 games. A&M’s group also includes graduate LHP Shaylee Ackerman and junior RHP Emily Leavitt, who have a combined record of 9-1. The group is able to maintain the ninth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the nation with a ratio of 4.32, forcing 147 strikeouts so far this season.

As for South Carolina and its batting so far this year, it is 34th in the nation in total runs with 121 so far in 20 games. The offense goes through senior Aniyah Black and her 21 hits and 19 RBIs, senior LF Kianna Jones with her three homers and senior CF Riley Blampied with her 19 runs and 26 hits.

South Carolina’s pitching is good for being 11th in the nation in ERA, with an average of 1.62, and is led by fifth-year RHP Alana Vawter, with her five wins to one loss on the year, and sophomore RHP Jori Heard who is ninth best in the nation in hits allowed per seven innings.

The Gamecocks’ pitching group also includes freshmen RHP Sage Mardjetko with her 1.86 ERA and RHP/DH Reganne Bennett, a two-way player who has an ERA of .75 in her 18 innings to add onto her team-leading four home runs.

Fielding for South Carolina is one of its greatest strengths as it has 403 putouts in 20 games and has a fielding percentage of .973.

A&M is producing better at the bat so far compared to the Gamecocks. At the 20-game mark, the Aggies have 27 more hits and 18 more runs and home runs than South Carolina.

Pitching for both teams is comparably close, with each having 38 runs allowed in their first 20 games. The Aggies have allowed 12 more hits but also struck out opponents 22 more times.

The same goes for fielding, as the teams’ fielding percentages are neck and neck. The Aggies have a percentage of .974 to the Gamecocks’ percentage of .973.

For A&M players, the key to starting SEC play with a win over South Carolina is consistently finding ways to create big plays at the bat while not allowing themselves to play so fast that they are falling out of rhythm. If A&M’s offense can get going and hit a home run or score multiple runs in one inning, then the Aggies have the opposition right where they want them.

The Gamecocks’ path to success comes from wearing down A&M throughout the first three innings and forcing them to play too fast and recklessly, similar to their losses to Kansas and Weber State. South Carolina’s offense has to look at exploiting the left side of the field, where the Aggies have had lineup changes throughout the entirety of the season so far.

All three matchups will be televised on the SEC Network+ starting on Friday at 6 p.m.

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