Saturday, June 09, 2007

Texas A&M let No. 1 slip away, 3-2

Rice's Diego Seastrunk (left) forces out Texas A&M's Kyle Colligan at third base on a sixth-inning sacrifice attempt.

Right-hander Kyle Nicholson is the heart and soul of Texas A&M's pitching staff. He's an Aggie through and through. Even grew up in College Station and went to high school at A&M Consolidated.

But at the biggest moment of the biggest game of A&M's season, Nicholson found himself heading toward the dugout.

Pulling an All-American off the mound can't be easy. A&M coach Rob Childress did that in the 10th inning on Friday with his team locked in a game against No. 1-ranked Rice tied 2-2.

Inserting reliever Gary Campfield made sense at the time. But Jordan Dodson hit Campfield's first offering into left field, and Rice's Danny Lehmann chugged home for the winning run in a 3-2 victory in the NCAA super regionals.

The fourth-largest crowd in Reckling Park history was seemingly split 50/50 among A&M fans and Rice supporters. The 5,074 fans were half elated, half dejected.

"First pitch, I was definitely looking for the fastball in," Dodson said, "and he threw it exactly where I thought he would."

Rice (53-12) is one victory away from going to the College World Series for the second straight year. Game 2 in the best-of-3 format is 5 p.m. today.

The Owls will start right-hander Matt Langwell (7-1, 1.73 ERA). The Aggies will go with Kirkland Rivers (2-3, 5.61) or Kyle Thebeau (3-5, 4.50).

Childress hasn't been afraid to call on any of his pitchers in the postseason. They've rewarded him so far. Pulling Nicholson in the 10th made sense, Childress said, because Dodson led off the ninth with a sharp single through the left side.

"We needed a different look on him," Childress said. "It was the right move, and I'd make it again tomorrow."

The Aggies (48-18) may not have been in that predicament if their defense hadn't failed them earlier.

At this point in the season, the statistics don't lie. If the numbers say you're a bad defensive team, then you're a bad defensive team. And any team with 100 errors is a bad defensive team. The Aggies made three errors against the Owls and have 101 errors for the year.

In the fifth, Rice's J.P. Padron hit an easy chopper to third, and Brian Ruggiano handled it with ease. But then Ruggiano threw wide of the bag, and Padron collided with Blake Stouffer for an error.

The next batter, Brian Friday, hit an easy grounder to short, and Brandon Hicks simply didn't get his glove on the ground. The ball went through his legs for an error, and pinch-runner Derek Myers scored to cut A&M's 2-0 lead in half.

"We got out of it only giving up one run," Childress said. "It could have been a lot worse."

That unearned run proved huge when Diego Seastrunk hit a RBI single off Nicholson in the bottom of the ninth. It looked as if A&M's Kyle Colligan could have made a diving catch. But he let the ball bounce in front of him and the score was tied, 2-2.

A&M's David Newmann and Rice's Ryan Berry had solid outings. Newmann went six innings and allowed only three hits for the Aggies. Berry allowed two runs in 7 1/3 innings for the Owls.

Both teams knew coming in this series was relatively evenly matched. Little mistakes would get magnified greatly. If the Aggies make more little mistakes today, their season will be over.


Rice Recap

Texas A&M Recap

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