FULLERTON, Calif. - The Texas A&M Aggies dodged some early bullets and posted a titanic four-run ninth inning to fend off No. 8 Cal State Fullerton in non-conference baseball action Friday night at Goodwin Field.
In their first true road game of the season, the Aggies rose to the challenge behind a gritty performance from starting pitcher Kyle Martin and an opportunistic offensive effort led by Blake Allemand who went 3-for-4 with one double, two runs and one RBI.
The Aggies drew first blood in the top of the fourth inning. With one out, Allemand deposited a double down the rightfield line to spark the rally. After Daniel Mengden struck out swinging, Justin Moroney reached on an error by the Titans' third baseman to put runners on the corners. Cole Lankford slashed a single in front of Fullerton's centerfielder to plate Allemand for the 1-0 advantage, but Moroney was thrown out at third to end the rally.
Cal State Fullerton (11-3) seemed posed to knot the game in the home half of the fourth, but the Titans were unable to capitalize on their leadoff man reaching base for the fourth consecutive inning. Anthony Hutting was gifted first base on an error by Aggie shortstop Mikey Reynolds to start the frame. With one out, Hutting stole second base and moved to third on a wild pitch. Martin uncorked an errant pitch on the fourth ball offered up to Chad Wallach and Hutting got a late break for home as Wallach trotted to first. A&M catcher Troy Stein scurried to retrieve the ball and was able to fire to Martin at the plate in time for the tag to prevent the Titans from tying the game.
Texas A&M (10-5) tacked on another run in the sixth to take a 2-0 lead. Mikey Reynolds threaded a leadoff double down the leftfield line to extend his consecutive-game hit streak to 14. Reynolds moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Krey Bratsen and scored on an RBI groundout to first base by Allemand.
After brewing up trouble with runners in scoring position in four of the first six innings, the Titans finally got on the scoreboard with the help of four free passes from Aggie pitches in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs in the inning, Keegan Dale drew a four-pitch walk from Martin. AJ Minter came in from the bullpen to relieve Martin and issued a pair of five-pitch base on balls to Ricky Pedroza and Carlos Lopez to load the bases.
Aggie closer Jason Jester was called on to get out of the jam, but yielded the Titans' fourth consecutive walk, this one to Matt Chapman, to plate Dale and cut the lead to 2-1. Jester was able to retire JD Davis with a strikeout to end the frame.
With A&M nursing a one-run lead, Jester retired the Titans in order in the eighth with two strikeouts and a grounder to short.
The Maroon and White created separation in the top of the ninth with four runs on five hits. Bratsen lined a single up the middle to start the frame and Allemand roped a hit-and-run single to rightfield to put runners on the corners, driving Titans' starter Thomas Eshelman from the game. Mengden deposited a single in front of the Titans' centerfielder to plate Bratsen. The outfielder misplayed the ball allowing it to roll to the warning track, scoring Allemand and putting Mengden on third. After Moroney struck out for the first out of the inning, Lankford bounced a single up the middle to score Mengden for the 5-1 advantage. Stein doubled to put two runners in scoring position and Charlie Curl plated Lankford with a sacrifice fly, giving A&M the 6-1 edge.
Jester sandwiched a pair of groundouts around a strikeout in the ninth to pick up his fourth save of the season. He worked 2.1 hitless innings allowing one walk while striking out four.
Kyle Martin (1-2) picked up his first win of the season, allowing one run on six hits and two walks while striking out four over 6.2 innings.
A&M pitchers were able to work around six hits and five walks, forcing the Titans to strand nine runners on the evening.
Eshelman (3-1) was saddled with his first loss of the season. He allowed four runs, three earned, on six hits while striking out six over 8.0 innings of work.
The Aggies and Titans return to action for game two of the series at 8 pm Central on Saturday.
TEXAS A&M QUOTES
Sophomore third baseman Blake Allemand
On his fourth inning double that lead to the first run of the game: I knew the pitcher (Eschelman) was going to pound the zone. He's been throwing strikes all season. I was down 0-2, but I knew he was going to be near the zone. I just wanted to get the barrel on the ball. The pitch was inside, but I was able to keep my hands in and hit it down the line.
On his game overall: It was nice getting some hits finally. Every at-bat I was trying to hit the ball hard and put it in play. I was down 0-2 a couple of times and it was nice to battle through that.
On the big ninth inning: It was huge. They got some momentum in the seventh inning. For us to put them away with four runs in the top of the ninth was a big deal.
Senior pitcher Kyle Martin
On working through the early jams: My defense was great today. I tried to make some pitches, but my mechanics were a little rough. But the defense was great and kept me in the game. I really appreciated it.
On picking up his first win of the season: It was great. You always want to get that first one out of the way. But I think it's a bigger deal that as a team we finally won a game on Friday. That was huge for us and I hope we can build some momentum off of that.