The 19th-ranked Texas A&M baseball team put a tidy bow on the regular season Saturday with a 6-1 series-clinching win over No. 4 Arkansas in Southeastern Conference action at Blue Bell Park.
Now the Aggies hope the RPI-boosting series victory leads the NCAA tournament’s selection committee to gift the program a regional host site.
“I know we didn’t win all three games, but we played about as good as we could ask our team to play,” A&M head coach Rob Childress said.
Arkansas (40-15, 20-10) entered Saturday’s rubber match having scored its first nine runs in the series via home runs, including five round-trippers in Thursday’s 7-3 victory. Game 3 began by following suit with shortstop Casey Martin blasting his third home run of the series off the scoreboard in left field with one out in the top of the first inning for a 1-0 Arkansas lead.
But Aggie pitchers also recorded 33 strikeouts in the series’ first two games, and A&M starter Christian Roa said there was an added emphasis on staying ahead in the count Saturday and putting away the powerful Razorback lineup by using the outside corner with two strikes.
“Christian Roa was marvelous on the mound,” Childress said. “Maybe his best performance of the year.”
Roa (3-2) lasted six innings for the Aggies (36-19-1, 16-13-1), allowing just one run on five hits. It was his second-longest outing of the season, trailing only his seven-inning stint in a 7-0 shutout of No. 2 Vanderbilt on March 17.
Roa worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the fourth by getting Jacob Nesbit to foul out and Trevor Ezell to ground out.
“When we can locate his fastball, he’s a very good pitcher and that was him today,” catcher Mikey Hoehner said.
Aggie reliever Joseph Menefee returned to action Saturday, throwing 2 1/3 innings a day after 1 2/3 innings of work. He struck out two without allowing a hit or walk.
In another callback to the Aggies’ series win over Vanderbilt, senior outfielder Jonathan Ducoff provided timely hitting by driving in the Aggies’ first run on a single in the fifth. Ducoff drove in seven runs against Vanderbilt, but made his first start since April 26 on Friday night. He earned his second consecutive start on Saturday’s Senior day.
“He had a great day yesterday and again today,” Childress said. “I’m very proud of that kid. He’s gone two or three weeks of not playing, but he’s been a great teammate and stayed prepared. Usually when you do that and you get your moment, you usually capitalize on it, and he did.”
Logan Foster scored on an error later in the fifth, and Braden Shewmake plated Ducoff with a sacrifice fly to right field to give A&M a 3-1 lead.
The Aggies added a run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by designated hitter Cam Blake. A leadoff double by Ducoff then set the table for a two-run seventh. A single by third baseman Ty Coleman, back in the lineup after battling illness Friday, drove in Ducoff. Coleman found his way home thanks to a throwing error by Razorback catcher Casey Opitz.
Arkansas’ two errors led to four Aggie runs.
“We made them pay,” Childress said. “We haven’t had a lot of those go our way this year. When we needed it most, they made a few mistakes, and we were certainly able to capitalize on it.”
The bottom third of A&M’s order — Foster, Ducoff and Coleman — combined to go 5 for 11 with a double, three RBIs and four runs scored.
Arkansas starter Connor Noland (2-4) took the loss, allowing three runs on five hits with three strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings. Two of the runs were unearned.
The sixth-seeded Aggies face a quick turnaround for the SEC tournament as they will lead off the event in Hoover, Alabama, at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday against 11th-seeded Florida.
As the Aggies gathered around the dugout to celebrate a successful finish to the regular season, most believed they would return to Blue Bell Park to play the first leg of the NCAA postseason.
“We feel confident,” Roa said. “It’s out of our hands, out of our control. We’ve just got to go out there and play well, and if we play well, I’m sure we’ll be back here, so we’re excited.”
NOTES — A&M pitchers had 44 strikeouts in the series, finishing with a regular season total of 602. It’s the second time in school history A&M has broken the 600-strikeout plateau. The Aggies are 10 shy of the school record set in 2010. ... In a touching moment before the game, Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn stood through the majority of the national anthem with a very young A&M fan latched on to his left leg. One of the Aggies “Anthem Buddies,” children allowed to stand next to their favorite player during the national anthem, became upset and began wandering around the first baseline while crying. Van Horn called over the child, who found some comfort standing next to the coach. “He was a little distressed,” Van Horn said. “He was scared. I was one of the closer ones to him, so I just tried to get him to come over to me and hang out.”... Hoehner wore No. 48 on Saturday, because his No. 44 maroon jersey got lost this week, he said.