With the bases loaded and Arkansas’ go-ahead run at the plate, Texas A&M starter John Doxakis turned to his middle infield and said, “I got you.”
A show of veteran grit and execution was the difference between the first and second game of the No. 19 Aggie baseball team’s final regular season series as A&M won 6-2 on Friday at Blue Bell Park.
A&M led 5-2 lead when the No. 4 Razorbacks used a fielding error by A&M second baseman Bryce Blaum to load the bases with no outs. Arkansas (40-14, 20-9) leads the SEC in home runs with 76 this season, including five against the Aggies in a 7-3 win Thursday.
After a moment of reassurance to his defense, Doxakis (7-3) struck out left fielder Christian Franklin looking on eight pitches. He followed with a 10-pitch punch-out of catcher Casey Opitz after falling behind in the count 3-0.
Aggie head coach Rob Childress went to the bullpen for right-hander Bryce Miller, who completed the rescue with a strikeout of pitch hitter Jordan McFarland.
“[Doxakis] is really good, and it’s really fun to play behind a guy like that,” shortstop Braden Shewmake said. “He pounds the zone, and he’s so hard to hit. I’m glad I’m on his team, that’s for sure.”
Shewmake gave Doxakis a rare early cushion as he combined with Blaum to belt back-to-back home runs to lead off the bottom of the first inning. The All-American shortstop made another bid for a round-tripper in the next inning, pelting the right-field wall at the base of the foul pole. The double scored two more Aggie runs.
“Coach talked a lot about getting off to a great start, and we did that today,” Shewmake said. “It wasn’t just me. It was everybody. Everybody put good swings on balls early and hit a lot of hard balls, a lot of line drives.”
A&M (35-19-1, 15-13-1) looked to freshman Chris Weber to pick up his first SEC start in place of suspended Asa Lacy in Thursday’s series opener. Weber had a career-high 10 strikeouts but ultimately got sunk by three mistake pitches the Razorbacks pounded over the outfield fence.
Doxakis made just one mistake Friday. It took four innings, but the Razorbacks’ power again showed up thanks to a home run by Jack Kenley. The two-run shot landed outside the ballpark over the visitor’s bullpen.
“You can’t throw mistakes,” Doxakis said. “They’re going to hit them. The main thing was keeping the ball down. That’s why I was bouncing a lot of sliders and just not leaving it over the plate, making them earn everything they get and not making it easy for them.”
The junior left-hander allowed two runs on six hits, while striking out eight over 5 2/3 innings.
Miller and reliever Jospeh Menefee combined to shut out the Razorbacks the rest of the way.
Arkansas starter Patrick Wicklander (5-2) took the loss.
After Blaum collected his second RBI of the game off a single in the fourth, right fielder Logan Foster emerged as a late-inning hero, driving in Hunter Coleman on a double in the seventh. Foster entered Friday’s game with four hits in his last 11 games.
The junior outfielder followed his offensive production with a laser throw from right field to retire Arkansas’ Dominic Fletcher at third.
“That was awesome,” Doxakis said. “Best throw of the season for when it mattered.”
Shewmake said he warded off complaints by assistant coach Justin Seely that Foster neglected to hit his cutoff man by saying he was too busy admiring the throw.
“I looked at Coach and said, ‘Unfortunately, there was no cutoff man there. I was watching the ball,’” Shewmake said. “I was yelling at him to throw him out. He’s got a great arm. Whenever he wants to use it, he’ll do it. He put it right on the bag, right where he had to.”
The Aggies have a chance to take the series and boost their RPI in an effort to host an NCAA tournament regional at 11 a.m. Saturday in a game moved up three hours due to rain in the forecast. A&M will send sophomore right-hander Christian Roa (2-2, 3.49 ERA) to the mound to face freshman Connor Noland (2-3 3.99 ERA), who will be making his 14th start of the season.
“It’s always good to get a win in the SEC, especially against Arkansas,” Doxakis said. “Last year, they swept us. I think we had one close game, and they broke it open late, so it just felt good to beat them. That’s all we were thinking about today, and that’s all we’ll think about tomorrow.”
NOTES — Aggie pitchers have struck out 33 Razorbacks through the first two games of the series, moving the staff to third on the A&M single-season strikeout tally. A&M is 21 strikeouts shy of the team record of 612 set in 2010. ... A&M will honor seniors Allonte Wingate, Jonathan Ducoff and Chandler Morris before Saturday’s game.