COLLEGE STATION, Texas—Texas A&M rallied to take the lead with a three-run sixth, and the pitching staff allowed Centenary two hits the rest of the way, as the 22nd-ranked Aggies defeated the Gents 3-2 on Wednesday afternoon to sweep the series before 2,778 fans at Olsen Field.
The victory was A&M’s fourth in a row and pushed the Aggies to 13-3 on the year. Centenary fell to 9-4.
“We were ready to play today,” A&M coach Rob Childress said. “I was proud of the way we competed from start to finish. (Centenary) doesn’t play this weekend, so they had their top two pitchers and their closer lined up for us. It would have been easy for us to come out and just say, ‘Hey, we tip our cap to those guys.’ But we didn’t do that. We made a lot of great plays defensively, and we got some timely hits as well. It was just a good day.”
A pair of sophomores, Texas A&M’s Clayton Ehlert and Centenary ace Dakota Robinson, were locked in a pitcher’s duel for the first half of the game. They combined to allow two hits through the first four innings, but it would be the Gents who would strike first at the plate.
With one out, Centenary catcher Alex Maldonado reached on an infield error. After a flare into shallow right and a ball that just got underneath Ehlert’s glove that was stopped behind the bag at second, the bases were loaded for Ricky Imperiali. On the third pitch of the at-bat, the Gent shortstop blooped one just into the grass behind the bag at third to plate a pair of runs.
After a swipe of third base and a bunt single just in front of the plate loaded the bases again, Ehlert locked down the rally by striking left fielder Calvin Sanchez out looking and coaxing first baseman Cameron Penney into an infield pop-out.
Texas A&M fed off that momentum, recording its first base hit of the afternoon leading off the bottom of the frame. Nick Fleece, however, was robbed of a hit on the next at-bat on a diving stop by 3B Teddy Saenz, who turned a double play.
The Aggies would break through in a big way in the next inning. Kyle Colligan walked to lead off the sixth, and back-to-back singles by Dane Carter and Blake Stouffer loaded the bases. Robinson was subsequently called for a balk on a 3-0 pitch to Jose Duran, bringing Colligan home.
Duran took the next pitch for a walk to re-load the bases, and Darby Brown followed with a double-play ball to second that plated Carter with the tying run.
The next batter, Brian Ruggiano, punched a 1-2 pitch up the middle to score Stouffer with the game’s final run.
Centenary would threaten twice more off the Aggie pen. With one out and the tying run at third in the seventh, first baseman Darby Brown foiled a squeeze play by gunning down outfielder Steele Lewis at the plate to preserve the lead.
The defense stepped up again in the ninth, this time behind closer Travis Starling. After a one-out single put the tying run on, Maldonado was caught looking on a 3-2 pitch. With the runner breaking, Aggie catcher Kevin Gonzalez threw out Saenz at second to complete the double play. Starling then struck Lewis out looking to end the game.
Ehlert (1-1), making his first start of the season and fifth of his career, picked up the win. He allowed seven hits, two runs (one earned) and did not walk a batter while fanning a career-best seven.
“It was great to see Clayton Ehlert go out there and have that kind of outing,” Childress said. “He threw all of his pitches for strikes at any time, on any count, and matched their guy pitch for pitch. In the fifth inning we had a chance to truly fall apart, and Clayton found a way to get out of that jam.”
Robertson tossed two innings of no-hit relief, and Starling registered his fifth save of the year with a scoreless ninth.
Robinson (3-1) lasted 5 2/3 for Centenary, allowing four hits, three runs(all earned) and three walks while striking out five. He did not allow an Aggie hit until the fifth. Justin Kraft was impressive in relief, as A&M managed only one hit and no runs over his 2 1/3 innings of work.
“This team keeps getting better every time we take the field,” Childress said. “Honestly, I’m disappointed that we’re not 16-0, because I fully expect to win every game we play. But we’re learning more and more about how to win and how to compete. We’re still trying to find our identity, but I like the way we’re competing.”
The Aggies open Big 12 play on Friday when Texas Tech comes to Olsen Field for a three-game series. First pitch is 6:30 p.m. and the game will air locally on Sports Radio 1150 The Zone. Saturday’s game will begin at 2 p.m., with Sunday’s finale set for 1 p.m.
The Red Raiders (8-6), who have won five of their last six, have seen eight home games cancelled for various reasons, and have played 12 of their 14 games on the road. Friday night’s pitching matchup features A&M freshman Brooks Raley (2-0, 1.80 ERA) against Texas Tech junior A.J. Ramos (1-2, 5.71).
“Tech has an outstanding program,” Childress said. “They’ve got a straw that stirs their drink in Roger Kieschnick, and we’ll have our hands full. Being on the road is nothing new to them this year. Both teams will be ready to play, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Tickets for the games against the Red Raiders, and all home contests, are available by calling the Athletic Ticket Office at 888-99-AGGIE or by logging on to aggieathletics.com.
TEXAS A&M POSTGAME NOTES
• Senior Dane Carter extended his career-best hit streak to 14 games with a single in the sixth inning…Carter, who is now hitting .492 on the year, has reached base safely (hit or walk) in all 16 games in 2008.
• A&M’s pitching staff fanned nine Centenary batters on Wednesday…On the season, the Aggie hurlers have totaled eight or more strikeouts in all but two games.
• The Texas A&M bullpen has now stranded 23 of 29 inherited runners on the year (79 percent)…On the year, the Aggie pen sports a 2.11 ERA and a 5-2 record.
• With his fifth save of the year and seventh of his career, sophomore Travis Starling moved into a tie for 10th all-time on both the season and career charts…A&M’s single-season record is 13 (Scott Beerer, 2003), while the career mark is 23 (Scott Centala, 1987-89).
• Freshman Nick Fleece made his first career start in the field, getting the nod in right…He had started three other games this season, all as designated hitter.
• Junior Brian Ruggiano made his first career start in left field...The junior has now started in four positions this season—catcher, first base, right field and left.
• Juniors Kyle Colligan (six games) and Jose Duran (five games) saw hit streaks come to an end.
• Texas A&M now leads the all-time series with Centenary, 17-1, and has won 12 straight…The teams are scheduled to meet again at Olsen Field in late February of next year.
• Game-time weather was 78 degrees and clear, with winds blowing out to center at 10 miles per hour.