Midweek Preview: Houston

WTAW 1620 94.5 Aggie Baseball Featured

Credit to Ben Rikard | Assistant Director, Athletics Communications – 12thman.com

BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The No. 15 Texas A&M Aggies will play their fifth game in 12 days in the City of Houston on Tuesday when they make their way to Schroeder Park to take on the Houston Cougars.

The Aggies have won seven games in a row and have one more midweek on the slate at Houston before kicking off SEC play Friday vs No. 1 LSU. The Maroon & White is coming off a 5-0 week that was capped by a three-game sweep of Northern Kentucky.

TV/STREAMING: Tuesday’s contest can be watched on ESPN+ and the WatchESPN app… Matt Pedersen will have the play-by-play call with Kyle Rogers providing analysis.

RADIO: The game can be heard locally on SportsRadio 1150/93.7 The Zone… Matt Simon and Tyler Pigg will have the call… the pregame show begins 15 minutes prior to first pitch.

SOCIAL: Fans can get in-game updates on social media by following @AggieBaseball on Twitter.

– The Aggies and Cougars have met every year on the diamond since 1965 except for the 2018 and 2020 seasons.
– The 174 previous meetings vs Houston makes UH the fifth-most played opponent in Aggie Baseball history. Only Texas (369), Baylor (324), Rice (285) and TCU (258) have played more.
– UH head coach Todd Whitting was on staff with Texas A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle at TCU from 2004 to 2010. Whitting served as the associate head coach for Schlossnagle’s Horned Frogs for five seasons before landing the Houston head job in 2010.

Since the Aggies’ loss to Louisville to open the Shriners Children’s College Classic, Texas A&M has not revisited the loss column. A year ago, the Aggies totaled 44 victories on the year but never won more than four games in a row at any point of the regular season. In fact, its longest win streak was five straight wins during its run through the NCAA Regional and Super Regional to reach Omaha. The last time the Aggies won at least seven games in a row was early in the 2021 season when they closed out pre-conference play with 11 straight wins, a streak capped with a 9-4 win at Houston on March 15.

The SEC gauntlet is well known around college baseball, but there’s no team in the country that has a tougher start to league play than what the Aggies will deal with over the next three weeks. The most recent D1Baseball.com poll has LSU (1), Tennessee (2) and Ole Miss (3) ranked as the top three teams in all of college baseball, and that is exactly what the Aggies will deal with starting Friday at Blue Bell Park. Texas A&M currently has six ranked league opponents on its schedule with five currently ranked in the top 10.

Freshman Justin Lamkin had shown well in five relief appearances before finally getting the ball for his first career start last Wednesday at Rice, and he responded in kind. He had picked up the save early Monday morning with the final three outs of the marathon win over Texas Tech but turned around quickly to deliver another 5.0 scoreless innings against the Owls, striking out seven hitters to get his first win as an Aggie.

Austin Bost was just 2-for-25 to open the season for the Aggies but has found his stride and carries a nine-game hit streak into Tuesday’s game at Houston. The senior is 17-for-33 (.515) with two homers, six doubles and 18 RBI during that streak, including a .879 slugging percentage and .575 on-base percentage. He kicked off his hot streak with a 3-for-4 performance vs HCU that included a pair of doubles and his first career grand slam to power his way to a career-best six RBI. He then followed that up with an all-tournament showing at the Shriners Children’s College Classic last weekend, driving in a run in all three games and finishing with five RBI, four runs scored a homer and two doubles. He has seven multi-hit games during his streak.

Among the myriad of records and oddities within the Aggies’ 16-inning win over Texas Tech was the school-record performance by the Texas A&M pitching staff. The Aggies used six pitchers in the game and with Justin Lamkin’s final two punchouts finished with 23 strikeouts as a team. That mark surpassed the 22 strikeouts Texas A&M racked up in a win over Army in 2020 and is the most by a team in the country in 2023.

The Aggies closed out a winning week with a 4-2 win over No. 24 Texas Tech in the finale of the Shriners Children’s College Classic at Minute Maid Park, but it took 16 innings to get in the win column. The game was the longest in the 23-year history of the Classic, surpassing the previous long of 15 innings when the Aggies fell to Jim Schlossnagle’s TCU squad in 2017. It was also the longest game for the Aggies since a 5-1 win over UT Arlington in 18 innings in 2018.

The Aggies had just seven hits in the win over Texas Tech but drew 16 walks. That total set a new tournament record for free passes and added to the Aggies’ overall total for the year. Currently Texas A&M leads the SEC and ranks fourth in the nation with 121 walks drawn as a team. Jack Moss leads the team with 17 walks, which ranks 20th nationally.

College baseball sees most of its focus on weekend series, but success in midweek battles can pay big dividends in the later months of the season. The Aggies dropped their first midweek of 2023 to Lamar but responded a week later with a 23-0 shelling of HCU and posted two midweek wins last week vs UIW and Rice. Typically, the Aggies have taken advantage of their midweek opportunities. Texas A&M was 9-1 in midweek games in 2022 with the lone loss coming at Houston on March 15. The Aggies are 28-4 in midweek games since the start of the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

Lefty Evan Aschenbeck was not on the radar of many coming into the 2023 season, but there may not be an arm more valuable to the Aggies early success than the Brenham native. Aschenbeck burst onto the scene with 4.0 innings of shutout relief vs Portland that helped the Aggies recover and avoid a sweep with a walk-off win on Sunday. He threw 2.1 innings vs Louisville, but then turned around on Sunday in Houston vs Texas Tech and delivered a brilliant performance with 4.2 perfect innings of relief in extra frame, retiring all 14 Red Raider hitters he faced with eight strikeouts. This year he has totaled 17 Ks against just three walks in 13.0 relief innings.

Freshmen such as Jace LaViolette and Kaeden Kent have been key everyday pieces for the Aggies so far in 2023, but there’s no player on the roster with more of a youthful learning curve than catcher Max Kaufer. The Medford, N.J., product was a midyear enrollee at A&M after graduating early from IMG Academy after the fall semester.

He is one of only four known midyear enrollees in the nation joined by infielders Will Burns and Tracer Lopez of Texas Tech and LSU catcher Brady Neal, who also is from IMG Academy; however, Kaufer will open up SEC play as a 17-year old backstop, not turning 18 until March 25, which makes him the youngest player in the nation in 2023.

The strength of the Aggie bullpen has easily been its left-handed arms, and the numbers back that up. Each of the top five strikeout totals by Aggie relievers are by left-handed pitchers with four of those pitchers sporting opponent batting averages below .200.

It’s easy to look at what Aggie shortstop Hunter Haas is doing at the plate, but what he has done in the field may be the most impressive. The Aggies were hampered by defensive play in 2022, ranking 179th in the country in fielding percentage with 16 errors coming from the shortstop spot (one every four games). That has not been an issue so far in 2023 as Haas has yet to commit a miscue in his team-high 55 chances in the field.

The former Arizona State infielder has been everything you could ask for of a top-of-the-order hitter and has reached base in 15 of 16 games this year. He currently leads the team with a .379 average and .519 on-base percentage. He has two games (G2 vs Portland; 3/4 vs Rice) where he has reached base in five plate appearances and had his first career multi-HR game last Tuesday vs UIW.

With its 44-20 overall record in 2022, the Aggies posted their 16th consecutive winning season. Texas A&M has registered a winning record in 60 of the last 62 campaigns entering 2023.

It isn’t uncommon for Aggies to show up supporting Aggies, but early indications are for big attendance numbers in 2023. So far, through 12 home games, Texas A&M ranks ninth in the NCAA with an average of 5,427 fans per game.

But look a little deeper and you’ll find that each of the first 2 weekends of the year are among some of the best non-conference weekends in recent memory. Total attendance for the three-game series’ vs Seattle U (17,844) and Portland (17,654) rank only behind Yale’s visit to Blue Bell Park in 2016 in total attendance for a non-conference, 3-game set since the facility was renovated in 2012.