HOUSTON, Texas – Texas A&M came back from a 6-0 deficit to defeat Rice 9-8 in 10 innings in the Houston Regional of the NCAA Baseball Championship. Krey Bratsen scored the winning run on a wild pitch in the bottom of the 10th inning.
A&M entered the bottom of the 10th down 8-7 after Rice (42-20) scored a run in the top of the 10th inning, but started a rally when Nick Choruby reached on an infield single with one out, then advanced to second on a wild pitch. After Jace Statum reached on an error, Krey Bratsen hit a single to right field that drove in Choruby to tie the game. With runners on first and second, Blake Allemand singled, but Statum was thrown out trying to score the winning run. With Ryne Birk at the plate, Rice uncorked a wild pitch which allowed Bratsen to score the winning run.
After being collared the first six innings, the Texas A&M (35-25) offense finally came unleashed in the bottom of the seventh. Trailing 6-0, Patrick McLendon started the frame by stroking a single to centerfield. He was replaced at first by Jace Statum who grounded into a fielder’s choice to first. Krey Bratsen singled to center and Allemand followed with a single to right to load the bases. Ryne Birk plated the Aggies’ first run with an infield single, beating out a throw from the shortstop. Cole Lankford fell behind 1-2 against Rice starter Chase McDowell and then fouled off seven pitches before depositing the 11th pitch of the at-bat over the rightfield fence for a grand slam home run, trimming the Owls’ advantage to 6-5.
The Aggies staked claim to their first lead of the game in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, McLendon singled to leftfield and was replaced on the base paths by pinch-runner Nick Choruby. Statum followed with a single to left putting a pair on and driving reliever Ryan McCarthy from the contest. Both runners moved into scoring position when a throwing error to first base by rightfielder Cook trying to double-off Statum on a fly out by Bratsen. Blake Allemand gapped a single to right-center to push both runners across for the 7-6 advantage. Allemand moved to second on the throw home and could have added a potential insurance run but was thrown out at the plate on a single by Birk.
With one out in the top of the ninth, Rice tied the game with Skyler Ewing’s ninth homerun of the season, a solo blast to leftfield that sent the game to extra innings.
The Owls took the lead in the top of the 10th, when Hunter Kopycinski drove in Kirby Taylor with a single to centerfield that Aggie centerfielder Krey Bratsen nearly caught on a diving attempt. Taylor led off the inning with a single, and was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt before scoring.
The Owls drew first blood in the top of the fifth inning. With one out, Shane Hoelscher and Connor Teykl both poked singles to rightfield to put runners on the corners. Ford Stainback bounced a single up the middle to plate Hoelscher for the 1-0 lead. And after Hunter Kopycinski bunted both runners into scoring position, Leon Byrd beat out an infield single to short sending Teykl home for the 2-0 edge.
Rice (43-19) tacked on two more runs in the sixth. Keenan Cook was hit by a pitch, the last batter Aggie starter Parker Ray faced. With Andrew Vinson on in relief, Skyler Ewing singled to left and Michael Aquino dropped down a sacrifice bunt to put both runners in scoring position. Hoelscher knocked in both runners, golfing a single into shallow centerfield for the 4-0 cushion.
In the seventh, the Owls strung together their third consecutive two-run frame. Byrd gapped a single to start the rally and Charlie Warren worked a walk. Cook bunted both runners into scoring position and Ewing was issued an intentional walk to load the bases. Jason Jester came in to spell Ty Schlottmann on the mound. Aquino grounded out to third to score Aquino and after Hoelscher was hit by a pitch to reload the bases, Warren scored on a wild pitch for the 6-0 lead.
The Aggies best opportunity to score early in the game came in the first inning. The Aggies loaded the bases when Birk reached on an error, Logan Nottebrok walked and Nick Banks reached on an infield single, but the previously red-hot Troy Stein was unable to drive the ball past a diving Rice second baseman, resulting in an inning-ending groundout.
The Aggies advance to the NCAA Houston Regional final and will face Texas at approximately 8 p.m. Sunday night. A&M must beat the Longhorns to force a second championship game on Monday evening.