As members of the Texas A&M baseball team filed into the Diamond Club at Blue Bell Park before Monday’s NCAA tournament selection show, a few could be heard humming the John Denver hit Take Me Home, Country Roads.
Several minutes later, the prophesy, or most likely prior knowledge, came to fruition when Texas A&M was named the No. 2 seed in the Morgantown Regional, hosted by West Virginia (37-20). It marks a school-record 13th straight NCAA tournament appearance for the Aggie baseball team, the third-longest active streak in the nation.
A&M will begin its postseason journey in a 3 p.m. Friday matchup against third-seeded Duke (31-25) on ESPN2. Also joining the Morgantown field is fourth-seeded Fordham (38-22), which the Aggies swept in the opening series of the year at Blue Bell Park.
“We’re certainly excited that we got our name called and we got the opportunity to continue to fight to get to Omaha, and that’s all you can ask for,” head coach Rob Childress said. “Certainly, it’s going to be a tough regional.”
The Blue Devils, making their eighth tournament appearance, finished fourth in the Coastal Division of the ACC with a 15-15 conference record. As the seven seed in the ACC tournament, Duke posted a 1-1 record in the tournament’s pool play with a win over Notre Dame and a loss to Georgia Tech.
Junior left-handed pitcher John Doxakis will take the mound for Thursday’s regional opener, with sophomore lefty Asa Lacy penciled for the Aggies’ second contest, Childress said.
A&M has never faced Duke or West Virginia on the baseball diamond.
The Mountaineers (37-20) are hosting their first NCAA baseball regional since the tournament went to the regional format in 1975. District play made its way to Morgantown during the 1955 NCAA Championship.
A&M took all three games against Fordham (38-22), the Atlantic 10 champion, to open the season by a combined score of 26-7.
“Fordham, they’re a really good team, too … so that’s a tough four seed,” Doxakis said. “West Virginia has made some noise lately.”
The Aggies have left the confines of Blue Bell Park for their last two NCAA tournaments. In 2017, A&M won the Houston regional as a No. 2 seed, hosted a super regional against Davidson and advanced to the College World Series. The Aggies’ season came to an end at the hands of Texas last season in the Austin regional.
A&M’s trip to West Virginia, the home state of head football coach Jimbo Fisher, is the third-longest regional journey the baseball team has taken, behind Corvallis, Oregon, In 2013 and Palo Alto, California, in 1997.
“Personally, I like playing on the road more,” Doxakis said. “You don’t have to worry about, I guess, taking care of the field and all that stuff. You kind of just get to go and play. I think that helps teams that get to travel, as much as it is fun hosting with the 12th Man here and stuff like that.”
With host sites in Oklahoma City and Lubbock named to this year’s tournament, Childress said he was a little surprised the committee sent the Aggies across the country to begin their tournament journey.
Should the Aggies survive the double-elimination pod, they would face the winner of the Nashville Regional, hosted by No. 2 national seed Vanderbilt, in the super regionals. Ohio State, McNeese State and Indiana State round out that regional.
They’re a great team,” Aggie catcher Mikey Hoehner said of the possible Vanderbilt pairing. “We obviously had a great series against them earlier on in the SEC. If the cards play right, we’ll be excited to play them.”
Ten SEC schools made the tournament field, tying the record high for the conference set previously in 2014 and 2018. Of those, four earned top-eight national seeds including No. 2 Vanderbilt, No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 Arkansas and No. 6 Mississippi State. Ole Miss and LSU also were among the top 16 seeds. The potential record-breaking program, Missouri (34-22-1), was named as one of the first four left out of the tournament.
The Aggies said they believed they were in the running for a host bid before last night’s site reveal, leaning on an RPI ranking of 15 and the seventh-best strength of schedule in the country. However, A&M posted a 1-3 record in the SEC tournament last week, which included 18 innings of scoreless baseball from the Aggie bats.
“We thought we had a shot to host, but you always get what you deserve,” Doxakis said. “We didn’t play well enough to earn that last host spot late in the season.”
So, in fully embracing their regional selection, John Denver reprised his West Virginia anthem over the Blue Bell Park speakers as the Aggies began their first NCAA tournament practice.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Childress said. I know [the Mountaineers] have a great facility, a great park, and three really good other teams there, so it should be a lot of fun.”