Commentary

Texas A&M rolls past Houston, sets up super regional rematch with Rice

Originally Published: June 2, 2008
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There were no dog piles on the field after Texas A&M wrapped up the College Station Regional on Monday night.

[+] EnlargeDarby Brown
Icon SMIDarby Brown and Texas A&M are benefiting from last year's experience.

There were a few thrown gloves, a smattering of high-fives and maybe a dumped water bucket or two. But the Aggies' rather tame show of emotion after a convincing 13-5 victory over Houston to wrap up their second straight NCAA regional championship wasn't nearly as exuberant as last season.

And for that subdued reaction, A&M coach Rob Childress was happy.

"That was kind of pleasing to me," Childress said. "I expected to see a dog pile. It makes me feel good to see what happened. It's big for our program that it didn't happen."

The Aggies are approaching their second straight trip to college baseball's Sweet 16 a little differently this time around.

Rice again awaits A&M at Reckling Park in the super regionals. But this year's A&M team isn't heading into the next round of the playoffs with the starry eyes that were apparent last season.

That approach is why the Aggies took more of a "been there, done that" attitude after subduing the Cougars on Monday night. It was exciting for them, but the Aggies know they still have more work to do.

"We expected to do this," A&M senior designated hitter Darby Brown said. "We came out ready to win the game. There wasn't any doubt in anybody's mind of what we had come out to do and what we were going [to do]. And that was to win this regional."

That maturity comes from a team that has its collective eye on the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., rather than merely advancing in the tournament.

Some of that maturity might have come from the roller-coaster season the Aggies have endured in 2008. Texas A&M was the nation's hottest team during a midseason spurt in which it claimed 41 of 47 games. But that came before finishing a crushing late eight-game losing streak that almost cost the Aggies the Big 12 championship.

We came out ready to win the game. There wasn't any doubt in anybody's mind of what we had come out to do and what we were going [to do]. And that was to win this regional.

--Texas A&M's Darby Brown

"We've got a pretty veteran club and we know that winning a regional isn't the end of the road for us," center fielder Kyle Colligan said. "We wanted to celebrate the way we did to pretty much make a statement. It's just another day at the ballpark. We might save that dog pile for about three weeks from now."

If there were any doubts, the Aggies jumped on Houston for seven runs in the second inning after spotting them an early lead. A&M took advantage of a sizzling power game that was nearly as hot as the blistering conditions at Olsen Field as they clubbed four homers against the Cougars. A&M slugged 12 home runs in the tournament.

Colligan started the power surge with a leadoff homer in the first inning and followed that with another blast in his next at-bat in the second inning that effectively put the game away. Brown contributed another blast later in the second inning and then contributed a bases-clearing double later in the inning to punctuate it.

The Aggies powered their way out of the regional thanks to a huge offensive surge. They slugged .699 as a team as they outscored their opposition 53-14 in the tournament.

"With 22, 11 and 15 [runs in A&M's three tournament victories], it's pretty easy to pitch," Childress said. "I don't know if I could get any outs, but I might get one or two with that many runs."

[+] EnlargeRyan Berry
Icon SMIRyan Berry and Rice's righties could pose problems for the Aggies.

The Aggies also advanced because they were patient and took advantage of Houston's pitching mistakes. Seven Cougar pitchers contributed seven walks and two hit batsmen. Houston also added two errors as the Cougars wilted after winning two draining elimination games Sunday.

But those runs will be much harder to come by against Rice's strong pitching staff. And it's the biggest reason that Houston coach Rayner Noble flatly predicted the Aggies would struggle against Rice's quality armada of right-handed pitching.

The Owls will throw an army of tough right-handed pitchers against the Aggies, including Ryan Berry, Chris Kelley, Bryan Price and Mike Ojala and surging relief ace Bobby Bell.

"I think that A&M is struggling against quality right-handed pitching," Noble said. "They can use this to their advantage and it can fire them up, but I don't think they match up very well with Rice's pitching that will be thrown at them."

Rice beat the Aggies in a similar manner last season, claiming 3-2 and 5-2 victories as they struggled with the Owls' strong starting pitching.

It was a continuation of a recent trend in which the Owls have dominated their traditional rivals. Rice has won 25 of its past 33 games against the Aggies, including a convincing 11-2 victory in College Station on April 15 that snapped A&M's season-best 13-game winning streak.

Despite the challenge, Childress is excited about his team's chances. And the way the Aggies reacted after Monday's victory made him more confident, despite the immense challenge of trying to take down the national No. 6 seed Owls on their home field.

"There have been quality right-handed pitchers we've swung the bats well against and others like [Missouri's] Aaron Crow that we haven't," Childress said. "It's all on a given day. How good will Berry be on Saturday or Sunday? He might be outstanding, but he might make several mistakes and let us score.

"I know on the year we're hitting pretty good against right-handers. Who are we facing? Roger Clemens? Ryan Berry is outstanding and is as good as any pitcher in the country. I know we'll have our hands full. But we'll have some good pitchers, too. "

And maybe a dog pile a week later than Childress might have expected.

Tim Griffin covers college sports for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Tim at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.

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