Game #59: #5 Texas A&M 5, #12 Louisville 4
Records: Texas A&M (41-18, 19-11), Louisville (42-20-1, 18-11-1)
WP: Jacob Palisch (6-3)
LP: Michael Prosecky (2-1)
Frequently on the ropes, Louisville apparently adopted the strategy of the city’s favorite son, Muhammad Ali, and played rope-a-dope.
Again and again the Texas A&M was swung ineffectively.
But in the ninth inning, Aggie catcher Troy Claunch finally landed a KO with a single full bases to lift A&M 5-4 over the visiting Cardinals in Friday night (and/or maybe Saturday morning) in A&M’s first baseball game the NCAA Super Regionals in front of 6,732 spectators at Blue Bell Park.
The Aggies (41-18) face the Cardinals (42-20-1) again at 2 p.m. Saturday for a chance to earn a berth in the 2022 College World Series.
Jamie Maury, Tex Ags
Claunch’s walk-off single was his second hit of the night. “Mr. Clutch” finished 2-for-4 with two singles and two RBIs.
“Nothing they do surprises me,” Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle said of his team after another win that has become commonplace. “Just when you think they’ve taken another hit – and there are so many teams I’ve seen or listened to – where you take that hit and you fold. These guys just move on to the next piece. They just keep going.”
The Aggies often moved in place. Four times before that — in the first, second, sixth, and eighth innings — they couldn’t land a big hit with loaded bases.
But with two retirements in the ninth, Claunch got into the clutch.
He swiped a first-pitch fastball into right field in front of Louisville left-hander Michael Prosecky (2-1) to bring in Trevor Werner for the game-winning run.
Claunch went for a walk when Prosecky came out of the bullpen in the eighth inning. So he was looking for a fastball.
“In that situation, I had already confronted him, so I felt pretty comfortable,” Claunch said. “I’ve seen every seat he has. With him it goes to the first pitch, breaking ball (in the eighth) and batting [Ryan Targac]I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to come back with another off-speed pitch, so I sat on the fastball and got one that I liked.”
The hit made up for an otherwise frustrating night at the plate for the normally hard-hitting Aggies.
They accumulated 11 hits, pulled ten walks, and reached base three times via hit batters.
However, they left 17 runners on base. Ten remained in goal position. Five times they struck with loaded bases.
“Just when you think they’ve taken another hit – and there are so many teams I’ve seen or listened to – where you take that hit and you fold. These guys just move on to the next piece. They just keep going.”
– A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle
The only base-loaded hit registered before Claunch in the ninth was from Jared Poland, who started pitcher from Louisville.
In the first inning, Claunch was hit by a Polish pitch for Jack Moss to score.
That was the only run the Aggies managed in the first. That one-run lead was short-lived.
Louisville came back in the second with three singles, a walk and a victim fly-off starter Nathan Dettmer to take a 3-1 lead.
Jordan Thompson delivered with a run-scoring single to drive Brett Minnich home in the third, but Louisville managed an unearned run in the fifth to take a 4-2 lead.
Excellent relief pitching from Joseph Menefee and Jacob Palisch prevented the Cardinals from increasing that lead.
Menefee replaced Dettmer in fifth place, leaving Louisville’s Ben Metzinger in third place. He got a ground out – which was confirmed by review – for getting out of a jam in the sixth inning. He also scored consecutive strikeouts to end the seventh inning with a Louisville runner at second base.
But A&M was still struggling at the plate until Thompson, the eight-hitter, hit a game-defining two-barrel home run that took about a foot off the outstretched glove of jumping midfielder Levi Usher.
“I won’t lie. I had to do a double take,” Thompson said. “I don’t think I hit a ball until that part of the stadium. I’ve occasionally knocked one off the wall in BP but never out. It was a great time to see how it turned out.”
Cardinal Aide Tate Kuehner originally raised his arms in celebration of what he believed to be a circus catch. He then patted his head after realizing Thompson’s blast cleared the fence.
Jamie Maury, Tex Ags
Thompson’s seventh inning home run was his fifth round tripper of the season.
“We expect Levi to catch everything,” said Louisville coach Dan McDonnell. “That’s a credit to him and what we’ve seen over the last few years. If he can’t catch it, I don’t know if anyone can.”
Palisch (6-3) then stepped up in the eighth to work out two scoreless innings to clinch the win, but it wasn’t easy.
He dropped two Louisville runners on base in the eighth. He got a double play ball to finish the ninth.
“We invested a lot with Menefee and Jacob,” Schlossnagle said. “I knew if these guys were running pitches we’d be fine as long as we don’t screw up on defense.”
Then Werner drew a walk from Prosecky, Louisville’s sixth pitcher, to lead the ninth. Austin Bost delivered a two-out single. Ryan Targac was hit by a pitch.
Then came Claunch, whose hit brought A&M within one win to a trip to Omaha.
“Typically, Troy saves his best bats for the end of the game,” Schlossnagle said. “No one would you want up there more than him against Prosecky, who is certainly really, really good.
“But it’s a game. We’re happy about the win, but there’s still a long way to go before we go through.”