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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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Junior RHP Nathan Dettmer (35) gets ready to throw the ball at Olsen Field on Friday, March 17, 2023.

Orange is a color seldom found in College Station, yet the No. 21 Texas A&M baseball team will take on two shades of the hue within the next five days, as the maroon and white will hit the road to battle No. 12 Tennessee from March 24-26, before returning home for a rivalry matchup with Texas on Tuesday, March 28.

A&M kicked off conference play last weekend with a three-game tilt with top-ranked LSU at Olsen Field, where the Tigers backed up their No. 1 ranking by taking two games from the Aggies. After dropping the first two games 9-0 and 12-7, A&M used a come-from-behind effort in Sunday’s game to salvage the series with an 8-6 victory.

While a 1-2 start to SEC action isn’t ideal, the good news for the Aggies is that they likely won’t face a team matching the depth and caliber of LSU. The Tigers boast the likely No. 1 overall pick of June’s MLB Draft in junior outfielder Dylan Crews, as well as arguably the nation’s top pitcher in junior Paul Skenes. Those two are just the tip of the iceberg that is LSU’s powerful, versatile lineup.

But the Volunteers are no cupcakes, and the road won’t get easier with an emotional contest with the Longhorns up next, as well as a series against No. 13 Ole Miss the following weekend. With nine other SEC teams ranked in the AP Top 25, there are no sure victories in the conference, as if there ever were.

“I think the entire league’s daunting,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “It’s not necessarily daunting to me, because all the teams are good, but at the same time, if we play well, we’ll be fine, or we’ll give ourselves the best chance [to win]. If we throw some more strikes on Saturday, we’re sitting here talking about a series win.”

Like A&M, Tennessee will be hungry for wins after being swept on the road by then-unranked Missouri last weekend, costing the Volunteers their No. 2 ranking. While it was the top team in the country in 2022 before falling in the Super Regionals, Tennessee retained just two of its top 10 hitters from that season. What it does bring back is an entire starting pitching rotation that went a combined 26-3 with a sub-3.00 earned run average last year.

The unit is headlined by junior RHP and 2023 Perfect Game Preseason Pitcher of the Year Chase Dollander, who enters with a 3-2 mark, 3.90 ERA and averages 16.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s followed by sophomore RHPs Chase Burns and Drew Beam, who are a combined 5-2 with ERAs of 3.41 and 2.25, respectively. The trio each landed spots on the 2023 Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List.

“The pitching we faced from LSU and some of the other guys we’ve seen throughout the course of the season … those guys are good preparation for us,” Schlossnagle said.

On the contrary, Schlossnagle will switch up the Aggies’ rotation ahead of the matchup, bringing in freshman LHP Justin Lamkin as the Sunday starter in place of sophomore RHP Chris Cortez. The latter carries a 1-0 record, albeit with a 6.52 ERA in 19.1 innings after giving up three earned runs in 1.2 frames versus LSU on Sunday, March 19. 

Lamkin has operated primarily out of the bullpen, accruing a 1-1 mark with a 1.33 ERA in 20.1 innings. The Corpus Christi native has also made two starts in midweek tilts with Rice and Houston, allowing just one run in nine combined frames with 11 strikeouts.

“Lamkin’s been the most, really the most consistent starting pitcher in the opportunities he’s gotten,” Schlossnagle said. “We’ve been looking for other right-handed options out of the bullpen, and Chris, hopefully, can go down there and give us something that way. I’m not out on him as a starting pitcher both this year and in his career, but right now it’s a pretty obvious need on both ends.”

A&M’s starting lineup will receive an addition as well, as junior third baseman Trevor Werner returns to action after suffering a hamstring injury on March 7. The Houston native looked great at designated hitter in the team’s 8-7 victory over Rice on Tuesday, going 2-for-4 with two runs batted in, including a 412 foot home run. Schlossnagle also discussed senior right fielder Brett Minnich’s return to action after injuring his hand in the first game of the season. 

“The doctor said if everything progresses, [he could return] as early as Tuesday, [March 28], potentially, depending on how he feels, if he doesn’t have any setbacks,” Schlossnagle said. “Six full weeks is [the date of the] Ole Miss [series], so I would say more likely that would be the time you’d see him back.”

In the pair’s absence, freshmen such as utility Kaeden Kent and outfielder Kasen Wells have stepped up to fill its position, batting .269 and .281, respectively, with Kent adding 19 RBIs. The duo joins freshman outfielder Jace LaViolette as key pieces of the A&M lineup.

“It’s awesome to see that coach Schloss trusts in the freshmen to be able to come out here and perform and succeed at a high level,” LaViolette said. “Honestly, that’s all you could ask for; he trusts us and we trust him, and whatever happens, happens.” 

The Volunteers feature a familiar face for Schlossnagle, as head coach Tony Vitello served as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator on Schlossnagle’s TCU teams from 2011 to 2013, where they made the NCAA Tournament twice. In 2012, the Horned Frogs reached a Super Regional, the height of Vitello’s success with the team.

“Tony came from Missouri and did an awesome job for us, signed a lot of really good players,” Schlossnagle said. “It doesn’t surprise me, his success as a head coach … he’s always had a real good idea of what he wanted his team and program to look like, and that’s certainly come to fruition.”

First pitch between A&M and Tennessee is set for 5:30 p.m. on Friday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. Junior RHP Nathan Dettmer will start on the mound for the Aggies, while sophomore LHP Troy Wansing will get the nod on Saturday at 11 a.m. 

A&M will return to Aggieland for a rivalry bout with Texas next Tuesday at 6 p.m at Olsen Field. After a 4-7 start to the season, the burnt orange and white have built up plenty of momentum with an 11-game win streak, albeit with series against Manhattan, North Dakota State and New Orleans.

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