HOUSTON – Just minutes after beating George Mason in an elimination game on Saturday at the Houston Regional, Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said that for his team to come through the loser’s bracket and advance to an NCAA Super Regional, some heroes would have to rise to the occasion.
Well, the Aggies still must find a way to beat rival Texas Monday night at Reckling Park to finish the job, but his words resonated to freshman lefthanded pitcher Tyler Stubblefield, who tossed a complete game gem in a 3-2 win over Texas to force a second Houston Regional title game, this following an amazing come from behind win over Rice to stay alive in the tournament earlier in the day.
“I thought Stubblefield really dominated the game. He threw strikes and he really did a nice job of moving the ball around the zone,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said. “He had good command and he didn’t walk a lot of people. That was a remarkable performance, and probably a reason why we were out of character.”
Stubblefield stepped up for the Aggies when they needed him most. After beating George Mason on Saturday, the Aggies faced Rice Sunday afternoon in an elimination game. A&M righthanded pitcher Parker Ray put together a decent performance against the Owls, but a few relievers were forced into action, and the Aggies desperately needed a good performance in the nightcap against the Longhorns.
Though only a freshman, Stubblefield set the tone early against the Longhorns. He began the game by pumping a pair of 91 mph fastballs past UT one and two hitters Brooks Marlow and Zane Gurwitz. UT followed up those strikeouts with a pair of walks, but Stubblefield got a line out to left field to escape the jam. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound, lefty didn’t walk another batter until the sixth inning.
“Tyler got punched in the weekend rotation after being very good the first five weeks of the season. Tonight, he looked just like he did the first five weeks of the season,” Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said. “He was really doing a nice job with his fastball on his glove side and he was throwing his secondary stuff for enough strikes. But the key for him was that fastball to his glove side. If he’s able to do that, he’s a very, very good pitcher.”
Shutting down a suddenly hot Texas offensive lineup was an impressive accomplishment. The Longhorns roughed up A&M righthanded ace pitcher Daniel Mengden in the first game of the Houston Regional, while despite only scoring a few runs against Rice starting pitcher Blake Fox, the Longhorns still managed to record 14 hits. Against Stubblefield, the Longhorns were only able to record four hits, and didn’t reach third base after the third inning.
Stubblefield finished the game retiring nine of the last 10 UT hitters. He also struck out nine, walked five and allowed two runs on four hits in the complete game performance. Stubblefield’s previous high for innings pitched this season was 6 1/3 in late February in a midweek bout against Houston Baptist.
“He had tremendous command tonight. He was able to mix in his breaking pitches well with his fastball, where as Fox the night before went breaking ball first and mixed in his fastballs,” Texas outfielder Mark Payton said. “He was throwing his fastball and then going with his breaking pitches when we weren’t expecting it. That made it pretty rough for us. He was a pretty good pitcher.”
From a stuff standpoint, Stubblefield wasn’t overpowering for much of the game, but did a terrific job of mixing his pitches, while also having an impressive ability to elevate or sink his pitches when need be. Stubblefield sat in the low-90s with his fastball, while he primarily worked with his upper-70s, low-80s changeup and slider combination.
“I told our team again today it’s going to take a lot of heroes to come back and win this thing. And if we were going to come back in this tournament, folks were going to have to step up on the mound,” Childress said. “Now we have to be able to go out there [Monday] and finish this thing.”
So, with that, we’re left with one winner-takes-all contest between the Longhorns and Aggies. And though reaching the NCAA Super Regional round is special for every team in college baseball, the Aggies or Longhorns advancing to the next round by knocking the other out undoubtedly would be extra sweet.
The Aggies and Longhorns haven’t met in football since Texas A&M left the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference, and the two schools also haven’t met in men’s basketball, or have plans to meet in the near future. So, for bragging rights in the State of Texas, it all boils down to Monday night’s game at Reckling Park, with the winner moving on to face the winner of Monday’s contest between Houston and LSU.
As was the case Sunday night, chances are good a new hero will rise to the occasion.