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AUSTIN — During rivalry games, players who let the emotions of the game interfere with their play often come out on the losing end.
Whether the No. 17 Texas A&M Aggies were playing too high or low emotionally may not be determined, but the multiple Aggie errors in the Longhorns’ fourth and fifth innings produced enough opportunities for Texas to take advantage. Holding off two late Aggie chances, Texas hung on to win 4-3. Sophomore Nick Kennedy earned his third win of the season while fellow sophomore Chase Shugart earned the two-out save.
Texas preserved the one run lead in the eighth inning thanks to a perfectly timed and executed defensive play. With the tying run at third, Texas A&M decided to utilize the safety squeeze to get the run home. Aggie center fielder Nick Choruby laid a bunt down that was fielded by senior first baseman Kacy Clemens. Clemens quickly got to the ball, made a clean exchange, and tossed the ball to catcher Michael Cantu, who applied the tag to preserve the Longhorn lead. Texas would escape the eighth with the lead intact, as the next batter popped out.
“Coach put on a play where I’m looking for the safety squeeze, and he actually put it on late,” Clemens said. “We didn’t call it at first and then I looked over there and he put it on late. So right when the pitcher kicked up, I looked home, he squared the bunt, and I’m just hauling to get the ball and looking to get a good play on it. Michael was there to catch a big toss and that was a big out.”
The ninth inning became interesting as A&M put the tying run 90 feet away from home plate. However, sophomore Chase Shugart bounced back from some of his recent struggles and retired the last two batters to earn his second save.
“Big play by Kacy on first and third, and it was good to see Chase Shugart get those last two because his confidence has been a little bit suspect lately,” head coach David Pierce said. “He’s working at it; he had a good session yesterday, so overall, just an awesome team win for the Longhorns.”
For the A&M, the fourth was an inning they will want to forget quickly heading into conference play. A&M entered the bottom half of the inning with a 1-0 lead when freshman Braden Shewmake advanced home on a balk. Kennedy was ruled to have never come to a complete stop and the first base umpire waved home the first run of the evening.
Things quickly turned against the Aggies in the bottom half. Texas tied the game up when Clemens put started to put his fingerprints on his fifth career game against A&M. Clemens singled to center, and the Aggie center fielder threw to second. Freshman David Hamilton rounded third, and slid in under the tag to tie the game up.
“A lot of our guys are squaring up the ball,” Clemens said. “Fortunately, they made a couple of errors that helped us get the momentum, but as you’ve seen, we’ve been adding runs early in the game and then kind of going into a lull. The eighth and ninth get more interesting that way. If we can get hot and then just keep pounding away in those middle innings, it’s going to be tough for us to lose ballgames. I think our hitters are finally getting disciplined enough and understanding what they can hit and what they can’t hit.”
Freshman center fielder Austin Todd bunted in the very next at bat, and Aggie third baseman Jorge Gutierrez tried to retire him at first. Instead, he fired the ball into right field, and Clemens came around to score, kicking the A&M catcher’s mask off of home plate during the process. Texas third run of the fourth inning came when sophomore catcher Michael McCann continued his recent hot streak, singling to bring Todd around.
While base hits in the fourth moved Longhorns around the bases, the lone run in the fifth came as a result of several A&M miscues. Junior right fielder Travis Jones singled to begin the inning. He stole second cleanly, and was almost picked off when he strayed too far from the bag on a sacrifice bunt attempt. However, an overthrow of the third baseman allowed Jones to retreat to second without any harm.
A&M then attempted to pick Jones off, but there was no maroon-clad player to receive the throw, and Jones advanced to third. With runners on first and third, a botched pickoff allowed Jones to score Texas’ fourth run, a complete gift from Texas A&M.
The five pitcher effort had some bumpy rides, but the overall stat line for Texas hurlers looks a lot better when one of them earns a W. The staff combined to allow only four hits and three runs (two earned) with nine walks and nine strikeouts. Junior Kyle Johnston looked to still be figuring out the closer or stopper role, as he struggled and allowed the Aggies to threaten in the eighth. Sophomore Beau Ridgeway pitched a strong eighth, but needed to be replaced by Shugart in the ninth after early struggles.
Pierce spoke after the game about how important this rivalry game was for the process of building his program.
“I think for our program and our mentality, it’s huge,” Pierce said. “It’s not just another Tuesday night. You’re kidding yourself if it is. It’s a great builder for our program and for our players. They feel like they can compete and beat anybody in the country.”
The Horns can use this game to take lots of momentum into Big 12 play with a top ten Texas Tech team coming to Austin.
“I think the timing when you win something like this, it’s perfect going into the Tech game,” Pierce said. “I feel like we’re going to have great weather so we should have great crowds this weekend. Its good momentum for us moving into conference.”