COLLEGE STATION, Texas– The task was as big as they come in college baseball, but if Sam Houston State was to keep alive a chance at an at-large bid and build momentum entering the final regular-season weekend, the path ran through No. 2 Texas A&M.
The Bearkats lived up to the challenge, shutting out the Aggies, 5-0, in front of 4,389 fans at Blue Bell Park on Tuesday night, backed by a lights-out performance from right-handed starter Dakota Mills.
“It was a daunting task coming in here but our guys were up to the challenge,” second-year head coach Matt Deggs said. “They’ve risen to the occasion all year. No stage has been too big. Our schedule has prepared us for moments like this.”The win marked the first time the Bearkats (34-19) had beaten a No. 2 ranked opponent in 20 years dating to a victory against Miami in the 1996 NCAA Austin Regional. The result also marked the fourth win against a top-25 foe this season with Sam Houston sweeping No. 25 Oklahoma in Huntsville.
Mills was sharp all night, using a strong breaking ball to fan four hitters. After the Aggies (39-12) placed runners on first and third with two outs in the fifth, the right-hander used the heat, blowing a fastball by Cole Bedford to strand a pair.
“I came in with approach that A&M is a good hitting team so my job is to fill up the bottom part of the zone and throw secondary pitches for strikes,” Mills said. “I looked down in the bottom of the third and had a 4-0 lead, it takes that much weight off my shoulders.”
One inning prior, the Meadows Place product allowed consecutive singles to lead off the inning but induced the double play to escape unscathed. Mills finished the night tossing 6 2-3 innings, scattering six hits and holding the Aggies scoreless.
“It was a great job of damage control right there,” Deggs said. “That is an offense that when they get free base runners, they can spin the game on you real quick. We did a good job of slowing down, executing the pitch away and he rolled over to second.”
The Bearkats jumped on the Aggies early, using three straight singles from Zach Smith, Andrew Fregia and Robie Rojas to take a 1-0 lead in the second. Two hitters later, Taylor Beene fought off a chopper to third to plate another.
“I thought we scrapped all night,” Deggs said. “I can’t just pick out three guys. The key to the whole offense was they functioned together. You have to do that if you’re going to take down a buffalo on the mound and they have a bunch of buffaloes over there.”
In the third, Smith provided the damage, belting a 3-2 pitch off the back of the bullpen wall in right for a two-run home run. The homer was his sixth this season. The senior has accounted for four of Sam Houston’s last eight home runs.
“I was just looking for a pitch to hit,” Smith said. “It was a situation with two outs that I was trying to drive one. It helped us out and we had guys coming up doing big things. The pitching did their job and it took the stress off us.”
Miles Manning entered in relief for Mills, tossing the final 2 1-3 innings, permitting just one hit. Mills moved to 2-1 with the victory while the Aggies were forced to use four pitchers, including starter Tyler Ivey who fell to 2-3.
The shutout was the fifth this season for Sam Houston pitching. Meanwhile, Texas A&M, which came in averaging 7.24 runs per game, was blanked for the first time since May 20, 2014 in an SEC Tournament game against Arkansas.
The Aggies seven hits were tied for the fewest in a non-conference game this season while the loss was just the fourth at Blue Bell Park this season.
The victory also gives the Bearkats additional momentum entering the final Southland Conference series. Sam Houston, who is just one game back of league-leader Southeastern Louisiana, hosts Houston Baptist for a three-game set beginning Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
“Any time you’re playing for a championship the last week of the season, that’s what you do it for,” Deggs said. “We’ve got it in front of us and we need to go take care of business. It’s going to be a three-game dog fight. We need to take care of the first one and go from there.”