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Making an Impact: Who's No. 1

February 04, 2014
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Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

Today we debut our weekly feature series, "Making an Impact".

Each week we'll look at a moment, personality, organization or tradition that makes Texas A&M Athletics and those support it and compete for it so special.

This week, with baseball and softball around the corner, we look at the greatest teams these sports have produced.

WHO'S NO. 1?

12th Man Magazine takes a look at the top
baseball and softball teams in Texas A&M history

by Rusty Burson & Homer Jacobs
12th Man Magazine

The staff of 12th Man Magazine gets you ready for the "diamond" sports with this look back at some of the greatest baseball and softball teams in Aggie history.


BASEBALL'S BEST: 1993

If this had been a story documenting the most awe-inspiring and transfixing teams in the history of Texas A&M athletics, the baseball choice would have been an easy one: the 1989 Aggies.

Period. End of discussion. No team ever bludgeoned opponents or mesmerized Aggieland—from the hard-core baseball fans to the casual observers—like the ’89 squad.

En route to a 58-7 overall record, the Aggies scored 635 runs, averaging a whopping 9.7 per game (by far the most in school history). A&M also averaged 11.6 hits and 5.9 walks per game (both the most in school history).

The Aggies reached double figures in runs 29 times (including a stretch of eight times in nine games) and began the season with 26 consecutive victories. During one weekend trip to Lubbock, the Aggies scored 53 runs in three wins over Texas Tech (averaging 17.7 per game), and opened the NCAA Regional at Olsen Field by outscoring their first three opponents (Jackson State, BYU and South Alabama) by a combined total of 65-13.

“I’ve never been able to put together a lineup—one through nine—quite like the ’89 team,” said former A&M head coach Mark Johnson, who guided the ’89 Aggies to a school-record .892 winning percentage. “We had a way of demoralizing teams.”

Indeed, they did. That run-producing, clutch-hitting team was so sensational offensively that it almost dispelled—over the course of an entire season—the old baseball theory about good pitching beating good hitting. Almost.

“I’ve never been able to put together a lineup—one through nine—quite like the ’89 team. We had a way of demoralizing teams.”

- 1989 head coach Mark Johnson

But not quite.

On May 28, 1989—perhaps the darkest day in Aggie baseball history—LSU, led by 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher Ben McDonald, swept back-to-back games at the Regional in College Station to advance to the College World Series. The doubleheader sweep devastated the Aggies, staggered the Olsen Field fans with flight reservations for Omaha and stunned the college baseball world.

At the opening press conference of the 1989 CWS, Texas coach Cliff Gustafson, who’d lost four of five games to A&M during the course of the ’89 season, told the media: “The Aggies were undoubtedly the best college team in the country this year. It’s a shame you couldn’t see them in Omaha because of the type of team they had.”

Wichita State eventually beat Gustafson’s Longhorns, 5-3, in the championship game of the 43rd CWS. But in the ultimate testament to the reputation of the ’89 Aggies, Baseball America ranked A&M No. 2 in the final Top 25 poll of the season, behind only Wichita State.

That’s also where the 1989 team will rank in this subjective story identifying the greatest baseball team in Texas A&M history.

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Ultimately, the 1993 Aggies top this list because that team broke a 29-year drought by making it to Omaha and won a game at the CWS.

Unfortunately, in five trips to the CWS (1951, ’64, ’93, ’99 and 2011), A&M has compiled only a 2-10 record. The ’51 Aggies beat Ohio State, 3-2, in their second game in Omaha, and the ’93 team opened play at Rosenblatt Stadium with a 5-1 win over Kansas.

Of those two teams, the ’93 Aggies were clearly the best for three reasons: Pitching, pitching and more pitching. The 1993 Aggies featured quite possibly the greatest three-man, weekend starting rotation in school history, frustrating foes with the left-handed trio of two-time All-American Jeff Granger, 1993 All-American Trey Moore and future MLB star Kelly Wunsch, who led the American League with 83 relief appearances for the Chicago White Sox in 2000.

“If we could have combined the ’89 position players and lineup with the ’93 pitchers, we would have been pretty much unbeatable,” Johnson said. “That’s nothing against the ’89 pitchers, but that ’93 staff was really special.”

The ’93 team, led by position players such as Eric Gonzalez, Robert Harris, Brian Parker, Brian Thomas and Rob Trimble, could also score runs in bunches. In 1993, A&M scored in double figures 19 times. That group had a .315 team batting average, which was the best for A&M since the ’89 squad hit .340 for the season (tops in school history).

The ’93 Aggies averaged 7.8 runs and 10.4 hits per game, which was often more than enough for a frontline pitching staff. Granger won 15 games and recorded 150 strikeouts in ’93, including the school-record, 21-strikeout performance against Lubbock Christian on April 2.

Moore was also dominant, going 12-0 with a 2.77 ERA. And Wunsch went 7-2 with 110 strikeouts in 87 innings.

“That year was nothing but fun,” Granger said. “We had a great group of guys. We joked around, and we were very loose. We also came back to win so many times that year. Other teams were used to facing maybe one lefty in a weekend, but when they faced us, they got three in a row. And it wasn’t just three lefties; it was three quality starters. Trey Moore had an exceptional year that season, going undefeated. Kelly Wunsch did very well, too, and I just went out there and tried to open series with a win.”

“(1993) was nothing but fun. We had a great group of guys. We joked around, and we were very loose."

- P Jeff Granger

That’s often what Granger did, setting the tone for one series after another. The Aggies went 15-3 in league play, winning the first regular-season outright SWC title for A&M since 1977. The ’89 team (17-4 in the SWC) shared the title with Arkansas, while the ’86 team (16-5) shared the crown with Texas.

Of course, winning the SWC title was certainly not the main objective for Texas A&M in 1993. It was all about Omaha. The disappointment of ’89 hovered over the program for years, and the pressure continued to build in 1991 and ’92. The ’91 Aggies won their first two games at the NCAA Regional in Baton Rouge, La. before being eliminated in back-to-back losses to LSU and Southwestern Louisiana.

Then in ’92 at the NCAA Regional in Gainesville, Fla., A&M opened play by hammering California, 15-6. After a heartbreaking, extra-inning loss to Georgia Tech in the second game, the Aggies came back to beat Florida and Georgia Tech on May 23. But A&M lost the May 24 championship game to Cal, 11-4, once again coming up one game short of Omaha.

“We felt a lot of pressure in ’93 to get over the hump and make it to Omaha,” said Trimble, who signed with the New York Yankees’ organization following the ’93 season. “There had been so many near misses leading up to ’93, and we all felt like we had one mission for that season. Anything less than the World Series was unacceptable.”

After so many nail-biting, gut-wrenching NCAA Regional losses had prevented the Aggies from reaching Omaha in 1986, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’91 and ’92, the ’93 Aggies made life easy on their fans at the Central Regional in College Station. A&M blasted Yale, 13-1, in the opener and then ripped Lamar, 10-5, in what would prove to be the closest game for A&M in the Regional. A&M then crushed UCLA, 11-4, and took out years of frustration by destroying North Carolina, 14-2, in the championship game.

“We didn’t want to leave anything the chance,” Trimble said. “We wanted to make a statement.”

At 52-9, the Aggies made such a loud statement in the Regional that A&M was the No. 1 seed in Omaha. And the Aggies opened the 48th CWS by sending their ace to the hill against eighth-seeded Kansas (45-16). Granger, who’d been selected by Kansas City days earlier with the fifth overall pick in the MLB Amateur Draft, again set the tone. The junior stymied the Jayhawks on five hits and Brian Thomas smashed a 410-foot home run to lead the Aggies to a 5-1 victory.

“...we all felt like we had one mission for (1993). Anything less than the World Series was unacceptable."

- C Rob Trimble

“The story is Jeff Granger,” KU coach Dave Bingham said after the Jayhawks were held to their lowest run total of the season. “We had a couple of chances on him early, but he really settled in from the third inning on.”

Unfortunately, that was the last time the ’93 Aggies played like themselves for a full game in Omaha. On June 6, A&M faced its arch nemesis, LSU, and the Aggies initially appeared to be on the verge of gaining some redemption against the Tigers. 

A&M ripped LSU starter Brett Laxton and the Tigers’ first two relievers for 11 hits. A&M led 7-2 entering the bottom of the fifth and Moore was pitching exceptionally well when the Aggies’ defense betrayed them. A&M committed five errors and a major mental mistake that were pivotal in the Tigers’ comeback, 13-8 win.

Two days later, the Aggies were again their own worst enemies, committing three errors in a 6-2 loss to Long Beach State that eliminated A&M from the CWS.

“We’ve made mistakes the last two games that we haven’t made all year,” Johnson said at the press conference following the loss to Long Beach. “I don’t feel like we were tight or choked. We just didn’t play well.”

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The only other time the Aggies won a game in Omaha was on the first trip in ’51. A&M’s coach from 1948-50, Marty Karow, had left for Ohio State following the 1950 season, and the team’s best player from the previous year, Wally Moon, had been drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. The ’51 squad featured a relatively no-name roster led by a man with virtually no coaching experience. R.C. “Beau” Bell was an All-American at A&M in 1931, but Bell wasn’t much of a coach.

“We won in spite of him, not because of him,” second baseman Joe Ecrette recalled many years later. “Guy Wallace and Pat Hubert were our captains, and Beau would ask them what they wanted to do. Whatever they wanted, we would do that day. It was really still Marty’s team.”

The ’51 Aggies were just 3-4 in the SWC on April 27. But on the following day against a TCU team that had already beaten A&M twice, the Aggies began a six-game winning streak that set up an unlikely opportunity for A&M to win a share of the SWC title.

To do that, however, the Aggies needed to beat Texas in back-to-back games at rickety ol’ Kyle Field, which backed up to the west stands of the football stadium. UT had won national championships in 1949 and ’50—the first two years the College World Series was played at Rosenblatt Stadium.

“It was pretty sweet to beat (former coach Marty) Karow in Omaha. We all wanted to prove to him that we were the better team."

- 1951 2B Joe Ecrette

Texas was so confident it would win at least one game in College Station that head coach Bibb Falk announced he would waive his team’s NCAA rights, including a possible one-game playoff between A&M and Texas, if the Aggies swept the two-game series.

That’s exactly what happened. Behind the pitching of Hubert, the Aggies beat the Longhorns 4-2 on May 17, and Bob Tankersley allowed just five hits the next day to lead the Aggies to a 4-1 win.

The sweep earned A&M an opportunity to travel to Tucson to play Arizona in a best-of-three series in the District 6 playoffs. But the first major postseason obstacle facing the Aggies had nothing to do with high-powered Arizona, which had compiled a 27-2 record.

“The biggest issue was just getting to Arizona,” said team manager Ted “Spider” Mohle. “Nobody expected us to beat Texas, and (athletic director Barlow) ‘Bones’ Irvin announced there wasn’t enough money in the budget to send the team to Arizona. My dad, who had played football at A&M and was in the Class of ’21, owned a CPA firm. He told Beau Bell that he would come up with the money to get us there. My dad got some other Aggies to scrape up enough money to get us a flight out there.”

Without any travel budget, the Aggies stayed under the bleachers of the Arizona football stadium, sleeping on Army cots. A&M won the first game, 5-4, but then allowed 15 walks and committed seven errors in a 21-4 loss the next day to even the series at 1-1.

In game No. 3, A&M built a 9-0 lead after three innings and coasted to a 14-2 win that earned the Aggies their first trip to the CWS.

The Aggies managed just three hits in a 5-1 loss to Springfield (Mass) College in the opening game, but in a second-round game against Ohio State and former A&M head coach Marty Karow, Tankersley pitched a gem and Yale Lary hit the game-winning homer in a 3-2 victory.

“It was pretty sweet to beat Karow in Omaha,” Ecrette said. “We all wanted to prove to him that we were the better team. Plus, we believed that we were back on a roll.”

In the third game, A&M rolled to a big lead over Utah in the early innings, but the Utes rallied for a 15-8 win to eliminate A&M. Oklahoma went on to win the 1951 national championship, beating Tennessee 3-2 in the title game. Texas A&M would not make another CWS appearance until Tom Chandler returned the ’64 Aggies to Omaha, and the Aggies wouldn’t win another game at the CWS until 1993.

BEST OF THE REST

1999

A CASE FOR THE 1999 AGGIES: Clubbed a school-record 125 home runs, 804 hits and 1,396 total bases en route to going 52-18 overall and winning a second straight Big 12 championship. Great frontline pitching led by Casey Fossum and a powerful offensive attack led by Daylan Holt, who blasted a school-record 34 homers.

WHY WE DIDN’T PICK THE 1999 AGGIES: Couldn’t win a game in Omaha.

 


 

SOFTBALL'S BEST: 1987

Before the recent run of national championships in sports like women’s basketball, men’s and women’s track and field, men’s golf and equestrian, Texas A&M could only show off some gold trophies in one sport—softball.

In fact, the Aggies built their program into a dynasty in the 1980s, winning three national titles (one as a member of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) under head coach Bob Brock.

A&M won the 1982 AIAW title with a combined fall and spring record of 84-9, and the Aggies followed that crown with an NCAA title in 1983.

But the best team in school history rolled out in 1987, as the Aggies rode the pitching of Shawn Andaya and the hitting of Liz Mizera to a 56-8 record and the Aggies’ third national title in six seasons.

During that special season, A&M dazzled in a 20-game winning streak early in the season and then closed out the year with a 16-1 run that included two victories over perennial power UCLA in the Women’s College World Series.

“There was nothing better to us than winning it all. Second wasn’t good. Going to the World Series really wasn’t an accomplishment to us. Winning it all was the accomplishment...We wanted that ring."

- 1987 P Shawn Andaya

A&M was an independent in softball back in those days and one of a handful of teams outside of California and Arizona to field a top-flight softball program. In fact, A&M was the only team to win an NCAA title from 1982-1999 (Oklahoma finally punched through in 2000) that didn’t hail from the far western region of the country.

With Andaya leading the way in the circle as the nation’s strikeout leader (326) and Mizera third in the country in runs batted in (43), the Aggies steamrolled through the spring and into the Women’s College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

The Aggies opened WCWS play with wins over Central Michigan and defending national champion Cal State Fullerton, but then A&M ran into its old nemesis, UCLA, and lost to the Bruins, 1-0. But A&M battled back through the loser’s bracket, taking out home favorite Nebraska and then stunning UCLA in a nationally televised championship doubleheader for the ages.

A&M eked out a 1-0 victory in game one to set up a winner-take-all matchup in game two, and this time the Aggies dominated in a 4-1 victory to claim the school’s third softball national title.

“There was nothing better to us than winning it all,” said Andaya (now Shawn Andaya-Pulliam). “Second wasn’t good. Going to the World Series really wasn’t an accomplishment to us. Winning it all was the accomplishment. We expected to be in the World Series.

“Our bar was set really, really high, where we never accepted anything, unless it was everything. Everything else was like a failure unless you won it all. That’s just what our expectations were of ourselves. We wanted that ring.”

The Aggies haven’t won a softball national title since that 1987 team took the crown, although Jo Evans’ 2008 squad reach the Championship Series of the WCWS. And the entire athletic department suffered through a drought of NCAA titles in any sport until the men’s golf team and men’s and women’s track and field teams struck gold in the spring of 2009.

It’s no wonder that 1987 softball team will be remembered for a long time as one of the school’s all-time best.

“Every last one of us continues to wear our national championship rings, “Andaya added. “One of my friends lost hers, and it was the biggest crisis in her life. She called me crying.

“We have a bond that will never change us because of what we went through to reach that level of what we considered was excellence in softball.”

BEST OF THE REST

1981-82

A CASE FOR THE 1981-82 AGGIES: A&M played a fall and spring season in the old AIAW and won an astonishing 84 games. A&M lost just nine times and went on to win the AIAW national title.

WHY WE DIDN’T PICK THE 1981-82 AGGIES: There weren’t many programs from major conferences playing softball at the time, so the Aggies’ schedule was light on heavyweights.

1983

A CASE FOR THE 1983 AGGIES: A&M won the NCAA title, coming out of the loser’s bracket to beat West Coast powers UCLA and Cal State Fullerton.

WHY WE DIDN’T PICK THE 1983 AGGIES: While the Aggies won it all, their record was 41-11 compared to the 56-8 mark set by the 1987 Aggies. Also lost two games to Cal Poly Pomona.

2008

A CASE FOR THE 2008 AGGIES: Won a school-record 57 games (for a spring season) and won the Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles. Also topped No. 1 seed Florida in a thrilling game to advance to the Championship Series of the WCWS.

WHY WE DIDN’T PICK THE 2008 AGGIES: In the end, A&M was dominated by Arizona State in the best-of-three Championship Series in Oklahoma City. But this team certainly brought back memories of A&M’s dominance in the 1980s.





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