COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Senior first baseman Jacob House homered for the second straight day and senior pitcher Ross Stripling tossed seven strong innings Saturday night on Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park as the No. 5 Texas A&M baseball team defeated Illinois-Chicago 9-2 in front of 4,002 fans.
The Aggies improved to 2-0 on the young season and will now aim for a sweep in Sunday’s series finale, which is scheduled for a 12:05 p.m. first pitch.
House, who plated the Aggies’ first two runs of the season with a two-run homer during the first inning of the series opener, duplicated the feat on Saturday. With the Aggies already up by a run, House took a 1-0 pitch from UIC pitcher Matt Salemi high over the wall in right field. The blast was the fifth career long ball for the Mansfield, Texas, product who has six RBI in the Aggies’ first two games.
Prior to the home run, the bottom of the first frame saw a scary moment as a screaming line drive off the bat of junior right fielder Tyler Naquin hit UIC starter Charlie Weinberg (0-1) in the head. The right-hander remained on his feet as he was assisted by athletic trainers from both teams and after being examined by medical personnel, returned to the dugout later in the contest.
A&M sophomore catcher Troy Stein helped the Aggie lead swell to 5-0 in the bottom of the third as he delivered in a clutch two-out situation with a sharp single to left field that scored a pair.
Naquin, who went 3-for-3 with three runs scored Saturday night, drove home a sixth Aggie run in the home half of the fourth. The Spring, Texas, native and reigning Big 12 Player of the Year now has scored six runs and collected five hits in his first seven at bats of the 2012 season.
The early lead was more than enough support for Stripling (1-0), who limited the Flames to just six hits and two runs while striking out eight. The right-hander wiggled his way out of trouble in the first inning and promptly retired 15 consecutive batters before a leadoff single in the sixth ended the streak and helped the Flames put their first two runs of the series on the scoreboard.
“You start talking about defining moments in games and that first inning Stripling gives up hits to the first two guys, they’re about to grab the momentum right away and all he does is retire the next 15 in a row,” said Texas A&M head coach Rob Childress. “We came right back in the bottom of the first and scored three of our own. That’s probably a five-run swing right there.”
After the Flames scored in the top of the inning, Texas A&M countered in the bottom of the sixth as senior third baseman Matt Juengel and House added RBI on a sac fly and single, respectively.
Freshmen Corey Ray and Gandy Stubblefield each pitched a scoreless inning of relief during their Aggie debuts on the mound late in the contest.
Texas A&M will give the ball to sophomore right-hander Rafael Pineda for his first career start during Sunday’s finale. The Flames will counter with a right-hander of their own in senior Matt Heaslip, who was 5-5 with a 5.78 ERA year ago.