LAWRENCE, Kan.- Luke Anders hit a game-tying three-run home run in the eighth and Brooks Raley singled in the game-winner in the 10th as No. 20 Texas A&M rallied for a 9-6 win over Kansas in 10 innings before 878 fans Saturday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark.
Raley, in his first plate appearance of the game after being a defensive replacement in the ninth, stepped in against KU closer Paul Smyth with the bases loaded and no outs. The freshman worked a 3-1 count and laced the next pitch into left center field, driving in Brian Ruggiano with the go-ahead run. Dane Carter would later add a two-out, two-run single to right to give A&M the three-run advantage.
It would be all closer Travis Starling would need, as he allowed a hit and a walk in the Jayhawk 10th but got a game-ending ground ball off the bat of Tony Thompson to record his third win of the year.
The victory was A&M’s third in a row, as the Aggies improved to 20-6 and 5-3 in Big 12 play. Kansas fell to 18-11 and 1-4.
“This was a great game and a great win for us,” A&M coach Rob Childress said. “For us to go and take it from one of the premier closers in the league says a lot about the toughness of this team. The result today took a total team effort. We were able to come back and get big hit after big hit, and I’m very proud of our guys for that.”
Texas A&M would not have had the chance to pick up their second extra-inning win of the season if not for the bat of first baseman Luke Anders.
Trailing 6-3 entering the eighth, the Aggies got the first two runners on before Anders drove the first pitch he saw from KU reliever Brett Bollman down the line in right and over the fence for his fourth long ball of the year.
“He hit it as hard as you could hit it,” Childress said. “Even with the wind blowing in and the heavy air, it was a no-doubter when it came off his bat.”
The game then entered the bottom of the ninth deadlocked at six. A&M reliever Kyle Thebeau got a groundout before issuing a single and hitting a batter to move the winning run into scoring position.
With cleanup hitter Buck Afenir—who had homered earlier in the game—at the plate, the Aggies went to closer Travis Starling out of the pen. The sophomore got a first-pitch double play ball to short off the bat of Afenir to end the threat and get the game into extra innings.
Jose Duran led the way offensively, going 3-for-5 with two RBI, while Anders (2-for-3, 3 RBI) and Brian Ruggiano (2-for-5) had a pair of hits each. Robby Price (2-for-5) and Tony Thompson (2-for-5, RBI) paced the KU offense.
A&M would take the initial lead with a run on three hits in the first. Duran drove in Kyle Colligan, who led off the game with a base hit, with a two-out single up the middle. After Darby Brown extended his hit streak to 10 games with a single to right that moved Duran to third, the Aggies tried a double steal but Duran was tagged out between home and third to end the inning.
The Jayhawks took their first lead of the weekend in the bottom half of the frame on a two-out, two-run home run to center by catcher Buck Afenir, his fourth of the season.
KU added another two-out RBI in the third. With Thompson at third base, Jayhawk left fielder John Allman lined a 1-2 pitch just over the glove of a leaping Duran at short and into left to make the score 3-1.
The Aggies were unable to cash in a pair of Kansas errors in the sixth, stranding two in scoring position and keeping the game deadlocked at three.
Despite being one strike away from ending the KU half of the sixth, a pair of walks would come back to haunt Aggie starter Barret Loux.
With two on and two out, Loux was called for a balk on a full-count pitch to first baseman Preston Land, moving both into scoring position. Land then drove the next offering into the right center field gap, giving the Jayhawks a 5-3 lead.
Thompson added an RBI single through the left side off A&M reliever Kyle Thebeau to make the score 6-3.
Both teams left runners in scoring position in the seventh, setting up the Aggies for the dramatic comeback and finish.
Starling (3-0) allowed one hit in his 1 2/3 innings of work, walking one while fanning two. He relieved Thebeau, who issued three hits in 2 2/3 innings of relief while not allowing a run.
Loux did not factor in the decision, fanning eight and giving up six runs and five hits over 5 2/3 on the afternoon.
Smyth (1-2) suffered the loss for KU, issuing four hits and a walk while allowing three runs over 2 2/3.
The victory was Texas A&M’s 20th of the year and set the Aggies up for a chance at a series sweep on Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. and the game will air locally on WTAW-AM 1620. A&M will send sophomore Carson Middleton (3-0, 2.37 ERA) to the hill, while Kansas will counter with junior Sam Freeman (4-0, 5.04).
“Every time you’re going for a benchmark win—10, 20, 30, 40 and every one after that—it’s not easy,” Childress said. “They don’t give it to you. They seem to be tougher than the others, and today was a perfect example. Today wasn’t easy. Now, we are in a situation where we have the opportunity to sweep, and that’s what we need to do. We need to come out and take care of business tomorrow.”
TEXAS A&M POSTGAME NOTES:
• Texas A&M improved to 2-0 in extra-inning games, both coming in Big 12 play…the Aggies downed Texas Tech, 6-5, in 12 innings on March 14.
• Saturday marked the sixth extra-inning game between the Aggies and Jayhawks in Big 12 play…A&M is now 4-2 in those contests.
• Texas A&M won its first game of the season in five tries when trailing after seven innings.
• Darby Brown and Jose Duran extended their career-best hit streaks to 10 games with first-inning singles…both have now hit safely in all eight of A&M’s Big 12 games in 2008.
• Dane Carter extended his hit streak to seven games with a two-run single in the 10th…Carter has hit safely in 24 of A&M’s 26 games in ’08 and has reached base safely (hit or walk) in all games this season.
• Brian Ruggiano posted his ninth multi-hit game of the year and third in a row.
• Jose Duran posted his 13th multi-hit game of the year.
• Texas A&M posted double-figure hits for the 16th time this season.
• Luke Anders hit his fourth home run of the season, and 15th of his career, in the eighth inning…Anders’ 2-for-3 effort at the plate marked his eighth multi-hit game of the season.
• Kevin Gonzalez’s eighth-inning double was the first of his career.
• Texas A&M now leads the overall series, 39-14, and 27-8 since the formation of the Big 12 in 1997.
• Game-time temperature was 50 degrees with overcast skies and winds blowing in from right center at seven miles per hour.