COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Sophomore pitcher Rafael Pineda took a no-hitter into the eighth inning during his first career start Sunday as the No. 5 Texas A&M baseball team completed the season-opening series sweep of Illinois-Chicago with a 7-0 victory on Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park.
The tall Aggie right-hander, who did not pitch during his first two years in Aggieland but enjoyed a breakout season over the summer while playing in the Texas Collegiate League, made his first trip to the mound in an A&M uniform and turned in a sensational debut. Through seven complete innings, the Flames still had a zero in the hit column and only one baserunner to show for their efforts
"Pineda pitched incredibly," Texas A&M head coach Rob Childress said. "He got us into the eighth without giving up a hit, pounded the strike zone and had early contact. You talk about three years of grinding through injury and getting into college pitching ... we hoped to get five innings out of him and let him get some work, but he wouldn't let us take him out. We're very proud of the way he came out and competed today."
Pineda's no-hit bid ended during the first at bat of the eighth inning as UIC right fielder Jon Ryan doubled to left center. Pineda, a product of Fort Worth's Crowley High School, exited following the base knock to a rousing ovation from the 4,224 fans in attendance, finishing his day with seven innings pitched, just the one hit allowed, no walks and three strikeouts.
"Honestly, I was more nervous last night," Pineda said when asked about his nerves on the mound. "I couldn't sleep. I was getting adrenaline rushes, but our coaches really calmed me down. Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling really helped me out on the mental side and I was able to come out and be really confident before it started."
The Aggie defense was impressive behind the young starter as diving catches and grabs reaching over rails near the stands became a theme for the afternoon.
"That's a big part of what happened today," Pineda said of the solid defense played behind him. "Scott Arthur made a diving catch, Brandon Wood jumped over the wall, giving up their bodies ... so did Matt Juengel. We just played carefree baseball today and gave up our bodies up for the team. It was great."
Offensively, the Aggies jumped out to an early lead by scoring in the first inning for the third straight game to start the season. Following a walk by leadoff batter Mikey Reynolds and a double from right fielder Tyler Naquin, the stage was set for Juengel to make the game's first impression on the scoreboard. The senior third baseman, who ended the contest 2-for-3 with three runs scored, connected on the first pitch he saw from UIC starter Matt Healip (0-1) and drove the offering down into the left field corner for a two-run double.
Later in the inning, Wood was able to bring home Juengel with a single to left that gave the Aggies a 3-0 advantage. Wood added a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the third as did freshman catcher Cole Lankford to extend the Aggie lead to 5-0.
Lankford plated another run during the bottom of the seventh, a frame that also featured the first RBI from fellow rookie Daniel Mengden. The hybrid catcher/pitcher from Houston brought home the score with a single up the middle before making his Aggie debut on the mound in the top of the ninth, when he worked a scoreless frame to seal the A&M victory.
"The young guys were more comfortable today than they were on Friday," Childress added. "I think we played about as well as we could play for an opening weekend. I was very proud of the way we've played for the last three days."
Texas A&M baseball is back in action Tuesday when it hosts Stephen F. Austin in a 6:35 p.m. contest at Blue Bell Park. The Aggies will send sophomore right-handed pitcher Derrick Hadley to the mound to face the Lumberjacks.