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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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Two teams, same dream

Photo by Cassie Stricker
2018 Spring Sports Package

The last time both the Texas A&M softball and baseball programs saw the playing field, they were exiting their respective World Series on the first elimination day. 

The women were dealt a tough card as they entered the Women’s College World Series facing SEC foe and No. 1 Florida in the opening game of the series on a humid day in Oklahoma City. They were run-ruled in five innings, handing A&M its first loss and put some urgency on the team’s shoulders. In a win-or-go-home game against UCLA, the women saw their hopes of making a championship run end.

In Omaha, Nebraska, 11 days later and 456 miles away, the men began a similar journey only to see it end, like the women, with back-to-back losses. In their first game at TD Ameritrade Park, A&M quickly fell behind to Louisville 5-0, and were unable to mount a comeback, suffering its first loss. Then came TCU, who had eliminated the Aggies in the last two postseasons. Like the years before — much to the dismay of many Aggies — the Horned Frogs eliminated A&M from championship contention. 

Almost eight months later, both teams are ready to welcome in a new season that shines bright with the hope of once again reaching the pinnacle of collegiate baseball and softball.

Despite the rather joyful final play in the WCWS — where then senior Celena Massey hit a home run in her final at-bat of her career — A&M head coach Jo Evans said the sour end to the season has been in the back of the team’s mind since they left Oklahoma City, but has not defined their approach during the offseason as they prepare for a new run to the WCWS.

According to Evans, the months between the end of last season and the start of this one  have been filled with methodical work to eliminate the smallest of mistakes that may create problems down the road. 

“We’ve been focusing on getting better,” Evans said. “We went to the College World Series and that was great, but we didn’t get the results we wanted at the series. We’ve spent a lot of time focused on little small details.”

Senior first baseman Tori Vidales said despite the early exit, they were still fortunate to make it to the WCWS in 2017, but it is 2018 now, and their priority is making sure this year  is even more successful than last season.

“We didn’t stress about it too much,” Vidales said. “There’s only one team that ends the season on a win. There were hundreds of other teams that lost their last game of the season. You can’t take it to heart too much, you have to see what you need to focus on for the next season. You can’t dwell too much on the past.”

This season, A&M was picked to finish third in the SEC behind Florida and Tennessee, two teams they faced back-to-back in the postseason, with very different results. All three teams are losing a combined seven players from last season’s roster. 

Fortunately for the A&M coaching staff, the Aggies are returning 14 letterwinners, including every starter from last season, with six seniors — all of whom started in 2017 — on the roster, which is the most since 2014. Evans stressed every member on the roster, regardless of classification, has to be ready to go in at any time in order to reach Oklahoma City. 

“Establishing the younger players … basically in order to have confidence and play if somebody gets injured or somebody is in a slump and things aren’t going well,” Evans said. “A big focus of ours has been ‘Let’s get everybody ready to play’ and not just rest on ‘Great, we’ve got everyone returning,’ because you never know when you’re going to have an injury.”

Junior Samantha Show emphasized that the team will not hold onto what happened last season, but rather focus on trying to be a cohesive unit.

“We didn’t talk about it that much,” Show said. “We definitely have a standard that we want to keep. There wasn’t much talk about getting back to the world series again, or anything like that because we need to focus on getting the team chemistry as best as it can be.”

Junior third baseman Riley Sartain said making the team as united as possible is one of the biggest priorities the upperclassmen have had during the offseason, in particular helping the freshmen successfully transition into college. 

“I can’t even imagine what it would be like to come into a program that just went to the College World Series,” Sartain said. “We’re just trying to mentor them every step of the way.”

Sartain, along with her fellow junior class teammates, have started and made major contributions throughout the season since their freshman year in 2016. Using that experience paired with having a trip to the WCWS, Sartain said she feels she enters this season well prepared with a better idea of what it takes to make a deep postseason run. 

“It’s real important to remind ourselves that it’s the same game — you run sixty feet and turn left,” Sartain said. “It’s important for us not to expect too much of ourselves. We’re going to be our biggest critic. Everyone expects these things from us but they don’t realize we expect more of ourselves than they do. It’s going to be important for us to have a calm heart and to be steady going into this season.”

Show has been one of the Aggies’ anchors in the pitching circle in the last two years. Despite a rather successful season, Show struggled in OKC, allowing four runs in just 1.1 innings in relief of the Aggies’ opening loss to Florida, 8-0. With several months to prepare for opening weekend, Show said she and her father focused on refining her delivery with an emphasis of hitting her locations.

“One thing my dad worked on over summer [was] throwing my fastball consistently at each spot,” Show said. “I think that will help me dominate better earlier [in the pitch] counts. Coach [Kara] Dill has done a really good job with helping me get my spin tighter.”

It is impossible to label 2017 as anything but a success for the Texas A&M baseball team as it advanced all the way to the College World Series, despite losing 13 players to the 2016 MLB Draft from the previous year’s team. 

Seven months later, however, the Aggies are hungry to build on that CWS run, which ended with two hard-fought losses in Omaha. 

“Coming off a College World Series experience and going 0-2 — you can feed off of that,” senior relief pitcher Cason Sherrod said. “This year it’s going to be about taking one game at a time. We can’t be saying we’re going back to Omaha because you can’t take that for granted. You have to work for it every day, and everybody

has [bought in] to the system. Everybody is putting in the work to be the best they can be so whenever their name is called, they’ll be ready to go.”

The Aggies lost their shortstop, two best starting pitchers and all three of their starting outfielders from last year’s team in the 2017 MLB Draft. Despite the losses, A&M returns a plethora of talent that has the potential to more than make up for what they lost.

The decision by pitchers Sherrod and Kaylor Chafin to return for their senior season somewhat mitigated the losses of Brigham Hill and Corbin Martin, and the Aggies are stocked with offensive firepower returning as well. 

One of the things the Aggies have had to guard against is placing too 

much emphasis on last year’s success. In the fall, the A&M leadership council, made up of the team captains, had a meeting and stressed the importance of treating 2018 as a brand new year.

Instead of approaching every situation by thinking of how last year’s team would handle it, Chafin said the goal is to do whatever is best for the current roster of players.

“I think the big thing with us is playing within ourselves,” said Chafin, who went 7-2 with a team-best 2.33 ERA last year. “You have to think that this year’s team is totally different and things are going to go totally different.”

Even though they did lose several key players from last year’s team, Chafin said the 2018 Aggies still remember the impact those players made and the lessons they left behind.

“The guys from last year set such a good example,” Chafin said.  “The guys stepping in now know what to do. They just pick up where they left off and keep running with it.”

The players stepping in now might still be underclassmen, but they are seasoned veterans after last year’s up-and-down season.

“Our class had to mature at a very fast rate last year with the situations we were put in, and we’ve also seen what it takes to win a Super Regional and make it to Omaha,” sophomore outfielder Logan Foster said. “We’re not that much older than the freshmen, but we try to help them and show them what it’s going to take to reach that end goal of not only making it to a Regional or winning a Super Regional but also getting to Omaha and winning the last game.”

Another thing still fresh on the Aggies’ minds is all the adversity they faced last year. Even though they ultimately made the run to Omaha, there were times during the season where it looked like they might not even make the postseason tournament. 

The young A&M team could have folded at any time, especially after being swept by Kentucky in the SEC opener or after losing five of the last six games of the regular season, but they remained positive and managed to make the most of their postseason opportunity. 

“Making it to Omaha was huge for us last year and everyone doubted us, but we kept our blinders on and I think that’s the same mentality we need to have this year,” Foster said. “Yesterday doesn’t mean anything today, so we just have to work one day at a time to focus on what we can accomplish for the day.”

Chafin said he can do without all the adversity in 2018. 

“I feel like everybody is working toward the same goal,” Chafin said. “It’s like, ‘What are we going to do to make this playoff run slightly easier than last year?’”

The Aggies are not shy when discussing what they want to accomplish in the upcoming season, which begins Feb.16 with a home series against Rhode

Island. Chafin and Sherrod did not come back just to make it to the postseason or make it to Omaha. 

They want to stick around TD Ameritrade Park longer than a few days and, hopefully, bring home a national championship. 

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