HOOVER, Ala. -- Texas A&M needed the best outing of the year from ace right-handed pitcher Daniel Mengden.
Even working on short rest having pitched last Thursday against Tennessee, a complete game gem, the Aggies called on Mengden to start against Florida Tuesday afternoon at the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The Aggies would've preferred to rest Mengden a couple of days, but time was of the essence. Lose to the Florida Gators in their first SEC tournament game, and the Aggies would be headed home, and certainly would be missing the NCAA postseason. Beat the Gators, and the Aggies at least would be keeping hope alive.
As Mengden has done a few times already this season, he willed his way through yet another start, and mowed down the Gators on the way to a 6-3 victory. For now, he has saved A&M's season.
"We just had a hope and prayer that we could get six innings out of him, then hand the ball to [Jason] Jester. He settled in after the first couple of innings and was really good. He really wanted to go back out there for the ninth inning," Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said. "For the last month, Daniel has really grown into that Friday role, and to be honest, he's been as dominant as anyone we've ever had for the last month."
Though Mengden put together another solid performance, his afternoon didn't start off in fantastic fashion, allowing two runs in the second inning to put the Aggies in a 2-0 hole. However, he settled in, and proceeded to get some help from hard-hitting freshman third baseman Hunter Melton, who smacked a towering three-run home run in the fourth inning to give A&M a 3-2 advantage.
Early in the contest, Mengden was rather erratic with his command, but was throwing a true three-pitch mix, along with a few curveballs. Once he settled in, Mengden's stuff went to another level. He was 89-92 with his fastball, touching a few 93s on the radar gun as well. He also had a nice 82-83 slider, along with a typically sharp 78-80 changeup. Mengden also threw those couple of curveballs at 75-76.
"I didn't really get started the way I wanted to, but I was able to get into my routine, started to feel better, and the defense was great behind me," Mengden said. "I was just trying to do what I always try to do, which is get ahead early in the count."
Mengden was near flawless after the fifth inning. Overall, he struck out 11, walked one and allowed just three runs (one earned) on five hits in a complete game performance.
"I thought he really did a nice job of mixing his pitches and staying around the zone," Florida outfielder Harrison Bader said. "I think we did a pretty good job of battling at the plate, but he threw a lot of pitches for strikes."
From a postseason standpoint, the Aggies entered the SEC tournament with much work to do, probably two or three wins to put themselves on the good side of the bubble. However, coach Rob Childress feels like the win over the Gators should get them into the field. Fortunately for him, the Aggies will have a few more chances to add some wins.
As for the Gators, coach Kevin O'Sullivan feels like his club is squarely in the postseason despite having a 29-28 overall record after today's game.
"I think when you look at the things the committee looks at, strength of schedule, we had arguably the toughest strength of schedule in the country, with quite a bit of wins against RPI Top 50 teams," O'Sullivan said. "Sometimes when you have a schedule like that, you leave yourself open to not having a great record at the end of the year.
"This season really had some ups and downs, and the negative is that we didn't finish strong," he continued. "With that said, we put together a difficult schedule and that's what they want. I think we have a pretty good resume."
A&M stays in Hoover with more work to do. Florida, though, will await its fate at home.
Zastryzny shines for Missouri in tough loss
Despite a historic and heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Mississippi State in 17 innings on Tuesday night, everyone got a glimpse at just how good Missouri junior left-handed pitcher Rob Zastryzny can be.
There's been much talk about Zastryzny throughout the spring. The 6-foot-3, 193-pound, left-hander has garnered some serious headlines because he's elevated his fastball velocity up to 94 at times. However, entering the SEC tournament, some questioned his consistency with an earned-run average over 4.00.
At least on this night, Zastryzny silenced any and all doubters. The lefty was terrific against the Bulldogs, striking out seven, walking two and allowing just one run on seven hits in nine stellar innings of work.
"He was phenomenal, focused and on a mission tonight," Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. "I think that's about as well as he has thrown all-season long for nine-straight innings.
"I think he's the next of our pitchers to make it to the big leagues," Jamieson continued. "He has big-league type of stuff and his competitiveness is off the charts out there."
In many performance this spring, Zastryzny has had a nasty tendency to leave some mistake pitches over the plate. However, he didn't do that against the Bulldogs, as his stuff was crisp and consistent.
From a stuff standpoint, Zastryzny was anywhere from 88-93 on the radar gun, sitting primarily in the 90-92 range with his fastball. Meanwhile, he used a solid 78-81 changeup and 74-77 curveball, both pitches he was able to move around the zone and throw for strikes.
"He had better breaking ball command and fewer mistake pitches. That was the big key," he said. "He threw all of his pitches for strikes tonight, and really did a nice job of keeping things in the bottom half of the strike zone."
Zastryzny potentially could go as high as the second round in next week's Major League Baseball draft.
While Zastryzny was fantastic and left a strong impression on the hundred or so scouts in attendance, junior right-handed pitcher Keaton Steele gave the Tigers a chance to win in extra innings with five strikeouts in seven shutout frames. However, as has been the case the entire season, the Tigers were unable to get key hits at the plate with 10 runners left on base.
"We almost got two complete games tonight, and this is just a microcosm of what our whole season has been all about," Jamieson said. "We've been more than good enough on the mound and defensively, but we have to be a team that can scratch across more than one run in a game like this."
Missouri finishes its inaugural SEC campaign with an uncharacteristic 18-32 overall record, but Jamieson vows to have a quick turnaround. Meanwhile, with the win over Missouri, Mississippi State avoids the possibility of an 0-1 showing in the SEC tournament. In other words, the Bulldogs are still on track for a host.