Against one of the best offenses the Southeastern Conference has to offer, freshman starter Chris Weber proved why Texas A&M head baseball coach Rob Childress handed him the ball for his first conference start by setting a career high in strikeouts with 10.
But it was three mistakes resulting in three home runs that ultimately sunk the No. 19 Aggies in a 7-3 loss to No. 4 Arkansas on Thursday at Blue Bell Park.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him and the job that he did tonight when we needed it most,” Childress said.
Weber (4-1) filled the rotation void left by sophomore Asa Lacy, who is serving a four-game suspension after an ejection during the second game of the Alabama series.
All seven Razorback (40-13, 20-8) runs came from home runs, including three off pitches from Weber. Arkansas entered Thursday’s series opener ranked 12th in the nation in home runs.
After allowing his first two base runners of the game on with a leadoff double and single in the third, Weber hung a slider that first baseman Trevor Ezell sent well over the left field wall for a 3-0 Arkansas lead.
Two innings later, Razorback shortstop Casey Martin and designated hitter Matt Goodheart launched back-to-back homers off Weber for a 5-2 lead.
“Everything was going right, but three mistakes and that’s what cost us really,” Weber said.
A round-tripper by Jack Kenley in the sixth and a ninth-inning solo-shot by Martin rounded out Arkansas’ scoring.
Weber combined with relievers Chandler Jozwiak and Jake Nelson for 18 strikeouts, which tied a season-high mark set in a 15-inning loss to Missouri on March 30.
With runs coming at a premium for the Aggies as of late, including five straight games ending in one-run margins, an aggressive approach of “run hunting” has become the mantra of A&M’s batters.
“That’s been our big thing as an offense and just getting that extra 90,” left fielder Cam Blake said. “When we get on, the guys who can run, we have the green light to go, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
In the fourth, the Aggies (34-19-1, 14-13-1) made the best of three singles, to generate two runs, cutting the Razorback lead to 3-2. Leadoff singles by shortstop Braden Shewmake and second baseman Bryce Blaum set the table for a one-out, RBI single by Blake on a safety squeeze play. Blaum then scored on a throwing error by Arkansas catcher Casey Opitz on a pickoff attempt to third.
But on the next pitch, Blake was caught stealing at third for the second out of the inning, deflating the Aggie rally. Blake took responsibility for the out, saying he got a bad break from second.
“He just didn’t get a great jump and was just trying to be aggressive and make something happen,” Childress said. “Can’t fault anybody for that.”
An RBI single by center fielder Zach DeLoach in the eighth plated A&M’s final run.
A&M mustered six of its 11 hits against Isaiah Cambell (10-1),the SEC’s fourth-best pitcher in walks and hits per innings pitched. But the Aggies went 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position and 0 for 8 with two outs.
A&M designated hitter Hunter Coleman had two hits in his first action since that same March 30 loss to Missouri after suffering a broken arm that required surgery.
“It felt like a second opening day kind of,” Coleman said. “I was definitely a little nervous an hour before the game, but it felt pretty good.”
While he made the trip with the team to Alabama last weekend, it wasn’t until live at-bats during practice Monday that he fully regained his timing, he said.
“What he did tonight was really impressive,” Blake said. “He saw the ball really well after six weeks out. That’s tough to do. It’s just a good feeling having that veteran bat in the order for us.”
Game 2 is set for 6:30 p.m. Friday with Game 3 at 2 p.m. Saturday.
A&M’s No. 1 starter John Doxakis (6-3, 1.93 ERA) will pitch Friday against what Blake said is the best offensive squad the Aggies have seen this year.
“We’ve got really good pitching, so we’re going to go out there and get them tomorrow,” Blake said.
NOTES — A&M first baseman Will Frizzell left the game in the sixth inning after he was a little “dinged up,” Childress said. ... A&M’s first four hitters combined to go 7 for 18. ... While he didn’t see any action in the game, College Station native Travis Hester made a return trip to his hometown with the Razorbacks.