Bring on the Big 12

March 18th, 2010

There’s just something special about Big 12 play getting underway.

Maybe it’s the XII on the umpires’ hats, or the recognizable uniforms in the opposing dugout, or the familiar faces covering the games or doing play-by-play on the radio. Whatever it is, it’s a great time for baseball fans–especially those of us blessed enough to call the Big 12 home.

Sure, the wins count the same as any on Tuesday towards that magical “40″ or “45″ you’re looking for come NCAA selection time. But there’s just more at stake here now–starting with that big crystal bowl trophy they hand out in May. And, it’s the first of several opportunities during the year to crown yourself “champion” and write your name in the record book forever.

On Friday, the 2010 Big 12 baseball season gets underway as the Aggies bring in Texas Tech to Olsen Field. There will be two other conference series as well–Baylor is at Oklahoma and Nebraska heads to Texas–but A&M fans will set their focus on West Campus and 6:35 on Friday night. Should be spectacular weather and, with a great tip time for the men’s hoops team in Spokane (3:45 p.m.), it makes for a perfect sports Friday for those of you in the area. Hope to see you out there.

Now, let’s take a look at the Red Raiders. Texas Tech enters Big 12 play with an 8-10 record. After beginning the year 7-2, the Red Raiders have dropped eight of their last nine, including a loss to Texas State on Tuesday in Lubbock. Their skid truly began a few weeks ago at the Houston College Classic with losses to No. 7 TCU, No. 9 Rice and a suddenly-hot Houston squad. Tech’s loss to the Owls in the Saturday game was a frustrating one and was just by one run. Last weekend, the Red Raiders went to Fort Worth to face 7th-ranked TCU, this time in a series. After dropping a one-run heartbreaker on Friday night, they fell on Saturday and then lost 8-5 on Sunday as a late rally fell short. But don’t let the results fool you, this squad can hit (.303, 18 HR), can play defense (about a .970 percentage) and with second-year coach Dan Spencer at the helm–one of the best pitching coaches around–you know they can pitch, although the ERA is up there at this point in the year (6.82). Maybe A&M is catching Tech at the right time, maybe not–we’ll have to see how things play out over the weekend.

That being said, you have to for the most part like what you’ve seen so far out of the Aggies. There’s no doubt this team can pitch (2.20 ERA, 2nd in the league) and hit (.330 average, fourth in Big 12). The defense has struggled at times but is improving–through the first 10 games, A&M fielded at a .949 clip…since, it’s .965. Here’s some notes and notables on Texas A&M:

•    While struggling at times last season with two-out hitting (.270 average), the Aggies have started 2010 with a bang in that category … A&M is hitting .387 this year with two outs, and 50 of its 103 RBIs (49 percent) have come with two down.
•    The Aggie bullpen has been nothing short of outstanding through the first 13 games of the year … through 40 appearances, the pen has combined for a 5-0 record and a miniscule 0.87 ERA, giving up just six earned runs (nine runs total) over 62 innings of work … during that span, the group has allowed just 36 hits, walked just 18 and fanned 78 while holding hitters to a .171 average … the pen did not allow an earned run over a span of 37.1 innings dating from February 20-March 9 … on the year, only seven of 37 inherited runners (19 percent) have scored.
•    A&M’s weekend starting rotation of junior Barret Loux, sophomore Ross Stripling and junior Nick Fleece are a combined 6-2 with a 2.93 ERA on the young season … overall, Aggie starting pitching in 2010 is 8-3 with a 3.22 ERA and .243 opponent average, walking just 13 and punching out 92 over 81 innings.
•    Texas A&M pitchers combined for 18 strikeouts in last Friday’s win over No. 25 Washington State … that tied for the most punchouts in a game by an Aggie staff since Jeff Granger fanned 21 in a win over Lubbock Christian on April 2, 1993 … A&M also struck out 18 in a win over Texas-Pan American on March 30, 2001.
•    A&M pitching has struck out 11 or more batters in seven of the last nine games and nine contests overall … the Aggies are averaging 10.7 punchouts per nine innings and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.5.
•    Aggie pitching has held opponents to two runs or less in six games this spring.
•    A&M has pounded out 10 or more hits in 10 of 16 games this year … the offense is hitting .330 and averaging seven runs per game.
•    Aggie opponents have scored 19 runs in the three Aggie losses on the year … 16 of those 19 runs have come in three innings (a 7-run third by SFA on Feb. 24, a 4-run fourth by Western Kentucky on Feb. 26, and a 5-run second by Washington State on March 13).
•    Texas A&M will play 21 of its first 24 games at home … the Aggies’ lone trip out of College Station during the span was for the QTI Baylor Classic in Waco … A&M will play the entire month of March at Olsen Field until it closes the month on March 30 at Texas State … the Aggies have nine regular-season games scheduled outside the state of Texas (Big 12 series at Kansas, Nebraska and OSU).

•    Senior DH JOE PATTERSON is pacing a solid Aggie offensive attack, hitting a team-best .444 (28-for-63) with seven doubles, two home runs, 12 RBIs and 15 runs scored … Patterson, who saw a career-best 15-game hit streak come to an end in the series finale with Winthrop (3/7), has reached safely in every game this season and has hit safely in all but one … Patterson has reached safely (hit, walk or HBP) in 31 straight games dating back to last season.
•    Senior CF BRODIE GREENE is also hitting .444 (28-for-63) with five doubles, three triples, two home runs, 14 RBIs and 21 runs scored … Greene carries a career-high 12-game hit streak into the weekend.
•    Junior 1B CALEB SHOFNER leads the team in home runs (5) and RBIs (24) and sports a .419 average … if Shofner maintains his pace, he would drive in 91 runs over a 61-game season (drove in 42 over 61 games in 2009) … Shofner is hitting .439 over his last 10 games with five doubles, a triple, three home runs and 16 RBIs.
•    Junior C KEVIN GONZALEZ is hitting .375 over his last nine games with three home runs and 10 RBIs … Gonzalez has hit safely in all but two of 15 games played this year.
•    Junior 2B ANDREW COLLAZO hit in the leadoff spot for the first time this spring following A&M’s loss to Western Kentucky (2/26) … since then, the Aggies are 10-1 … over that span, Collazo is hitting .318 with three RBIs, four stolen bases and five runs scored.
•    Sophomore utility man SCOTT ARTHUR is hitting .320 over his last 10 games with three doubles, four RBIs, eight runs scored and four stolen bases.
•    Sophomore two-way standout John Stilson has made a huge impact in his very brief Aggie career … Stilson has made six appearances in relief so far in 2010 and has already picked up two wins and two saves, and has punched out 25 in 17 innings of work … he has allowed eight baserunners in 58 plate appearances—a bunt single on the infield vs SFA (2/24), a base hit vs Winthrop (3/7), and five free passes … opponents are hitting .040 against Stilson.
•    True freshman pitcher MICHAEL WACHA has appeared in five of A&M’s last 10 games (four relief, one start), and is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and a save … Wacha did not allow a run in any of those outings (16 IP), gave up just nine hits and walked two while striking out 24 … he enters the weekend with 21 consecutive scoreless innings dating back to Feb. 20.
•    Senior pitcher CLAYTON EHLERT is 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA in his last three outings (two starts, one relief) … in 14 2/3 innings, Ehlert has allowed two earned runs and a walk while striking out 18 … opponents are hitting .226 against him in that span … Ehlert has thrown 11 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings entering the weekend … the senior gave up seven two-out runs in a loss to SFA (2/24), and removing that 1/3 of an inning from his statistics would drop his ERA from 4.67 to 1.06.

A&M’s complete game notes can be found here, while Texas Tech’s are available here.

Looking forward to a great weekend of baseball at Olsen Field. As always you can watch free live video of the games on aggieathletics.com,  listen live on radioaggieland.com or follow through live stats (aggieathletics.com) or in-game scoring updates via Twitter at @aggie_baseball.

A quick radio heads up for those of you in the area … Friday’s game will be broadcast locally on WTAW-AM 1620 … the broadcast will follow the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament game from Spokane, which is expected to tip at approximately 3:45 p.m. (CDT) … Saturday’s game will air on WTAW-AM 1620 … if the Aggie men defeat Utah State in the NCAA Tournament on Friday, Sunday’s series finale will air on Sports Radio 1150 The Zone … otherwise, Sunday’s game will be broadcast on WTAW-AM 1620.