There were walk-offs early and late in the finale of the Texas A&M series with Alabama.
By the end, the only one that mattered to the Aggies was Braden Shewmake’s one-out single up the middle in the 11th inning to score Michael Helman for a 3-2 win, giving A&M a sweep of the Crimson Tide. The victory put the 19th-ranked Aggies (27-9, 8-7) above .500 in league play for the first time this season going into the second half of the Southeastern Conference schedule.
“‘It was a gut-check win for us,” assistant coach Will Bolt said. “It was a stressful game, but they are all pretty stressful games in the SEC, so it’s really nothing different.”
Bolt stepped up to the microphones and cameras after the game after taking over in the dugout for the Aggies in the first inning when assistant coach Justin Seely and head coach Rob Childress were thrown out of the game after an interference call at second base on an attempted double-play by Alabama.
After Michael Helman led off with a single and Logan Foster walked, Shewmake hit a grounder to first and Foster was called for interference at second base. Helman went to third, but was sent back to second because of the interference call. Seely motioned to Helman and second base umpire Jeffry Macias saw it differently and tossed Seely and then Childress after he came out to argue.
“It fired everybody up to know the coaches have our backs like that,” Shewmake said. “[To know coach] will tell them what he thought about what they had to say or what he called. It means a lot to everybody.”
After everything settled down and Bolt was given the reins, Helman stole third and Hunter Coleman walked, but Bama starter Garrett Rukes got out of the inning by striking out Cole Bedford.
“After that inning that’s what we told the team, we’ve got to regroup and stay calm and just play baseball and just take what the situation gives us,” Bolt said.
That attitude was made easier with the way starting pitcher Stephen Kolek was throwing. The junior only allowed three hits and three walks in 7 2/3 innings. He was only in trouble once, in the third inning. Alabama had runners at first and third with one out but ran themselves out of the threat. Walker McCleney was thrown out at home by third baseman George Janca, and Hunter Alexander was thrown out at second by catcher Cole Bedford on a play where it appeared as if one of the baserunners missed a sign.
“If we go all the way back to the first inning, it all starts with Stephen [Kolek],” Shewmake said. “He was phenomenal all game long pounding the zone, and throwing quality strikes at that, didn’t leave much over the plate.”
Kolek had started the first game of every series until Alabama came to town, when he was moved back to Game 3.
“It felt good to finally have a good outing again,” said Kolek, who had given up 11 runs in his previous 8 1/3 innings. “We don’t have time for pouting around here and after the last couple of outings just put your head down and work harder and just figure out how I can get better. [On the] pitching staff, we all root for each other. It doesn’t matter what day we are throwing. [Game 1 and 2 starters John Doxakis and Mitchell Kilkenny] pitched super this weekend, and I can’t ask for anything more, a sweep.”
Kolek’s one mistake was a 3-2 pitch to Chandler Taylor, who, despite the wind, hit a ball that bounced near the railroad tracks past the right-field fence and rolled across the street to a group of fans walking toward Kyle Field to watch the spring football game. It was the big right-fielder’s team-leading 11th homer of the season.
’Bama (21-16, 5-10) forced extra innings with a ninth-inning, two-out double by pinch-hitter Chandler Avant that scored pinch-runner Connor Stutts. The double over center-fielder Zach DeLoach’s head cost Nolan Hoffman his third save of the week. Hoffman (4-1) stuck around long enough to get the win. He pitched seven innings in three games over five days.
A&M took a 1-0 lead in the third on Shewmake’s first single of the day, a one-out shot to left field plating leadoff hitter Helman, who scored all three Aggie runs.
The second A&M run came in the fifth inning and with help from reliever Kyle Cameron. The right hander fielded a comebacker from Hunter Coleman and had Helman caught off third base, but after running halfway to the base, he threw the ball away and Helman sprinted home. Helman was hit by a pitch and advanced on one of Foster’s three hits.
“It’s all about playing good baseball, and we handled the ball well defensively,” Bolt said. “It was far from perfect, made a couple base running mistakes that cost us and we weren’t great with runners in scoring position, but the sign of a good team is finding a way to win.”
A&M finishes its eight-game homestand against Texas State on Tuesday and then opens the second half of the SEC season with three games at Tennessee starting Friday.