CORVALLIS, Oregon – Texas A&M mounted a ninth-inning rally, but it fell short as the Aggies dropped a 6-4 decision to the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos in Corvallis Regional action of the NCAA Division I Baseball Championships at Goss Stadium on Friday afternoon.
Texas A&M (32-28) had the tying run on second base with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but were unable to get the runs across.
Trailing 6-2 in the Aggies’ last at-bats, Troy Stein led off the ninth by threading a single through the left side of the infield. Logan Taylor followed with a single of his own to put two runners on, chasing relief pitcher Greg Mahle from the game. With closer Dylan Hecht on the mound, a passed ball put both runners in scoring position. Brandon Wood struck out looking for the first out of the inning, but Krey Bratsen and Jace Statum each delivered singles to send both runners home, cutting the lead to 6-4.
An error by centerfielder Cameron Newell allowed Statum to move to second on his hit, putting the tying run in scoring position. Hecht was able to induce a foul pop up to the third baseman by Mikey Reynolds for the second out of the inning and Blake Allemand struck out looking to end the frame.
UCSB (35-23) drew first blood in the top of the second inning. Tyler Kuresa drew a four-pitch walk to start the frame, moved to second on a one-out single to centerfield by Cameron Newell and scored when Luke Swenson dropped a single down the leftfield line for a 1-0 advantage.
The Gauchos tacked on two more runs in the top of the third. Joey Epperson laced a leadoff single through the right side of the infield and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Brandon Trinkwon. Woody Woodward bounced a single through the right side of the infield to plate Epperson for the 2-0 lead. The margin was pushed to three runs when Kuresa hit a ball to the left centerfield gap and was mishandled by centerfielder Bratsen, allowing Woodward to score.
Texas A&M shaved a run off the lead in the bottom of the third inning. Bratsen reached base to start the inning after Gaucho third baseman Marc Venning tripped before getting off a throw to first for an error. Statum pushed Bratsen to second with a sacrifice bunt. Reynolds pasted a 1-2 offering down the leftfield line, scoring Bratsen and cutting the UCSB edge to 3-1.
Santa Barbara inflated the lead to 5-1 in the fourth inning. Swenson was issued a walk to start the inning and moved to second on a balk. With one out, Jackson Morrow singled through the left side of the infield to put runners on the corners. Epperson pushed the lead to three runs with a single up the middle to knock in Swenson. A sacrifice fly by Trinkwon sent Morrow home for the second run of the fame.
The Maroon and White trimmed the lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs, Allemand reached on an infield single and moved to second on a balk. Cole Lankford drove in Allemand with a single to right field. The rally was kept alive when Hunter Melton hit a ball deep into the hole at short for an infield single. Troy Stein came to the plate as the tying run, but struck out swinging for the final out of the inning.
UCSB was granted a run in the eighth inning. With two outs, Swenson reached on a two-out single. The inning appeared to be over when Aggie reliever Matt Kent appeared to catch Swenson wandering off first. With Swenson rolling into the tag of a diving Mikey Reynolds at second base, Swenson was awarded the stolen base. Venning took advantage of the extra out, driving a triple to the gap in right centerfield for the insurance run and the 6-4 lead.
The Aggies had key scoring opportunities in the sixth and eighth innings, but left two runners on in each frame. In the sixth, Stein struck out swinging to end the inning. In the eighth, Melton drove a deep fly ball to centerfield for the final out.
Daniel Mengden (8-4) was saddled with the loss for the Aggies. He allowed five runs, four earned, on six hits and three walks while striking out three over 3.1 innings. It was the shortest career start for the sophomore who also committed a balk and tossed two wild pitches.
Austin Pettibone (10-3) earned the win for the Gauchos. He yielded two runs, one earned, on seven hits while striking out six over 7.2 innings. Hecht picked up his ninth save of the season, scattering two hits and striking out two over 1.0 innings.
Lankford paced the Aggies at the plate, going 3-for-4 with one double and one RBI. Melton went 2-for-4.
Swenson led the Gaucho attack going 2-for-3 with two runs, one stolen base and one RBI. Epperson went 2-for-5 with one run and one RBI.
The Aggies return to action on Saturday when they face the loser of Friday evening’s Oregon State/UTSA game in an elimination contest at 2 pm Central at Goss Stadium.