For the second consecutive year, TCU has ended Texas A&M’s dreams just short of Omaha. While the Horned Frogs celebrated their third consecutive trip to Omaha, the Aggies were left to slowly exit down the dugout steps and toward the offseason.
The Aggies were ranked No. 1 in the country at times during the season. They earned a national seed after winning the SEC tournament and then breezed through regional play. TCU grabbed Game 1 of the Super Regional, but home runs from a quartet of seniors in Game 2 for A&M forced a winner-take-all matchup.
The same offense that hung 22 runs on Wake Forest a week earlier managed just two hits and a run in the final game of the series. The pitching was strong with Turner Larkins taking the mound for A&M, but the deciding blow came in the seventh inning when the Aggies bullpen allowed the decisive three runs in a 4-1 defeat. A&M catcher Michael Barash struck out swinging in the ninth inning, kickstarting the celebration for TCU.
“Yeah it’s a tough one,” A&M infielder Ryne Birk told reporters in the post game press conference. “Especially losing to the same team two years in a row. Watching them dog pile was tough, especially on our home field. We felt like we had a great team, a good enough team to make it to Omaha. It just didn’t happen for us this year.”
A&M had little issue on offense throughout the season until the Super Regionals, boasting .300-plus batting averages for virtually every starter and scoring runs in bunches. The pitching staff took an early-season hit with the loss of expected starter Tyler Stubblefield kicked off the team for a violation of team rules, but arms like Kyle Simonds and Brigham Hill took the extra responsibility in stride throughout the season and didn’t miss a beat.
The difference between traveling 825 miles to Nebraska for the College World Series or staying in College Station for the offseason came down to just a few inches. Josh Watson tied the game at 1-1 in the fifth inning for TCU when a seemingly catchable ball skipped by the webbing of Barash’s mitt to allow a run on the pass ball. In the seventh, reliever Andrew Vinson narrowly missed the black of the plate to walk in a run with the bases loaded.
A sac fly almost ended the inning in the next at-bat when Nick Banks delivered a bullet to second base, narrowly missing an outfield assist for a double play to end the inning. Instead, the frame continued and the normally accurate Mark Ecker launched a wild pitch Barash was unable to corral, plating yet another run for TCU.
Coach Rob Childress was quick to congratulate the Horned Frogs on the win before following up by saying “brokenhearted for [the Aggies] that they don’t get to experience the greatest place on earth.”
“It’s not going to define who they are as men, what they’re going to do with the rest of their careers whether it’s in baseball or moving on in life,” Childress said. “We’ve got a special, special group of young men that know what it means to be selfless, know what it means to be great teammates. At the end of the day we didn’t get it done and I’m disappointed for myself and for our guys that it just didn’t happen.”
In regard to the “rest of their careers,” 13 Aggies were selected in the MLB draft last week, including four players in the top five rounds. One A&M signee, Hudson Sanchez, is expected to sign with the Padres and not attend school after being selected in the first round.
And so, the Aggies enter the offseason again wondering what might have been. Rebuilding the roster and replacing departed seniors such as Hunter Melton and J.B. Moss will be on the agenda, while other teams may soon come calling to pick apart the coaching staff.
Whoever is on the roster when the season kicks off in 2017, the goal remains the same. Every pitch thrown and every bat swung will come with those few missed inches from Sunday in mind. Should the cards fall the same next season and pit A&M and TCU together once again in postseason play, every move made between now and then will be toward making the Aggies the participants in the victory dog pile, rather than the witnesses.