Texas A&M's Tyler Naquin and Krey Bratsen could be the best 1-2 punch at the top of a lineup in college baseball. You'll get no argument from Arizona's Kurt Heyer, the hard-luck loser in Tuesday's championship game of the College Station Regional.
Heyer was brilliant on three days rest, but his season came to a screeching halt in the eighth inning because Naquin and Bratsen put in motion A&M's 3-0 victory.
Heyer retired the first two batters in the inning, which earned the right-hander another go at the left-handed hitting Naquin even though Arizona had a pair of left-handers ready in the bullpen. Heyer fell behind Naquin, and the Big 12's player of the year lined a double to right-center field.
That was Heyer's 104th pitch. He seemingly had stepped back and wiped his brow on each of the last 50 tosses as the temperatures soared toward triple digits. He'd thrown 98 pitches in the same afternoon heat Friday. He couldn't have had much left, but the bottom line was he had allowed A&M only three singles. Arizona coach Andy Lopez opted to stay with his starter, patting him on the hind side before heading back to the dugout where hindsight was a swing away.
Part of Lopez's decision to stick with his starter had to have come from Heyer's luck in the sixth when Bratsen grounded into a double play, even though Naquin -- who had walked -- was running on the pitch.
Besides, Heyer was Arizona's ace, and he seemed to have Bratsen's number with a slider. Bratsen lined out in the first inning after twice failing to bunt after Naquin's single. Bratsen flew out in the third then hit into that double play in the sixth after again failing to bunt on the first pitch.
This time, Heyer, Lopez and the Wildcats fell victim to Olsen Magic as Bratsen grounded the first-pitch slider into center field for a single to easily drive in Naquin. Lopez had to be second-guessing himself as he went back out to get Heyer. But his depleted pitching staff promptly gave up a two-run double to confirm the coach's faith in sticking with Heyer.
Still, the Wildcat sophomore teamed up with A&M right-hander Michael Wacha for a scintillating end to a chapter at Olsen Field, which is getting a facelift as the centerpiece of highly anticipated Blue Bell Park, which will open next season.
Tuesday's game was about as sweet as they come. It was a pitchers' duel with solid defense and a trip to the Super Regionals seemingly on the line with every pitch made the heat bearable. Wacha, also pitching on three days rest, allowed five singles in seven innings.
"That's how it should be," A&M head coach Rob Childress said. "It shouldn't be a 15-13 game. That's what you want if you're a fan and you love baseball. [You] couldn't ask for anything more."
Heyer just wanted a run to work with. Arizona failed to score in three of his last four starts. He also has to be the first pitcher with an 0-2 recored named to the all-tournament team. He should give his honor to seldom-used reliever Nick Cunningham who pitched 5 1/3 innings of two-hit baseball in Sunday's 7-4 Arizona victory or Heyer doesn't get a chance to pitch Tuesday.
The Aggies needed some luck just to keep the game scoreless. The Wildcats strung together three singles with one out in the fifth, but a great throw from Bratsen in center field and an even better grab and tag by catcher Kevin Gonzalez retired Arizona's Jeff Bandy. The slow-footed catcher was on third base when Alex Mejia blooped a single just in front of the hard-charging Bratsen.
"I kind of got a bad read on it at first. That's why I didn't catch it," Bratsen said. "I knew I had a shot at [Bandy]. Gonzo just made a great pick on the ball and got the tag on his back."
It was only Bratsen's second assist of the season, but the freshman has been solid with only one error in 139 chances. Naquin has the much more feared arm in right field with seven assists.
They've been much bigger menaces in the batter's box, accounting for 28 percent of the team's runs. Naquin is hitting .392 with 22 doubles. Bratsen is second on the team at .343 with 29 stolen bases. They do more than set the table, combining for 78 runs batted in.
For the Aggies to beat Florida State in Super Regionals and get to the College World Series, they'll need Naquin and Bratsen to repeat what they did at Olsen on Tuesday.
How fitting would it be for A&M to reach the CWS, which moves to plush TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha after being at Rosenblatt Stadium since 1950? That would make for a pretty sweet dedication at Blue Bell Park next season.
For the record, Olsen Field was dedicated on March 21,1978, with Southern Cal winning 5-2. USC won the national title that year.