MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Texas A&M baseball team might have snapped a 22-inning scoreless streak Friday, but it still couldn’t generate enough offense to remain in the winners’ bracket of the Morgantown Regional.
Two Duke three-run home runs were the difference in a 8-5 Blue Devil victory to open the NCAA tournament.
“When you get to the postseason, each week is built for you to have a bad day,” A&M head coach Rob Childress said. “If you have two, your season is over. For us, that was today.”
Aggie starter John Doxakis gave up just one hit over the first three innings but got in trouble in the fourth when Michael Rothenberg and Kyle Gallagher hit back-to-back singles with one out. Duke third baseman Erikson Nichols then sent a pitch over the middle of the plate over the left-field fence for a 3-0 lead. Chris Crabtree kept the rally going with a double, took third on a wild pitch and scored on RJ Schreck’s ground out.
“It was just one of those innings where I kind of just got away from the scouting report that we had,” Doxakis said. “You can’t leave mistakes over the plate or they are going to punish it, and that’s all that happened that inning. They put some really good swings on the ball and knocked it around the park.”
Doxakis (7-4) righted the ship from there, lasting three more innings without allowing another run. He gave up four runs on six hits with nine strikeouts and no walks.
Childress elected to go to the bullpen to start the eighth after Doxakis had thrown 103 pitches. Right-hander Bryce Miller gave up a double and two singles and threw a wild pitch without recording an out as Duke (32-25) took a 5-1 lead. Freshman left-hander Joseph Menefee entered with two runners on base and on his second pitch of the game gave up another three-run homer, this one by pinch hitter Rudy Maxwell for an 8-1 Duke lead.
The Aggies (37-22-1) had a chance to take the lead in the first inning as shortstop Braden Shewmake led off with a single and stole second, then Bryce Blaum walked. Cam Blake pushed the runners up a base with a sacrifice bunt, but Duke starter Ben Gross (7-4) struck out Mikey Hoehner and Jonathan Ducoff to strand the runners.
“Had we cashed in in the first inning, maybe it was a different story,” Childress said. “It’s like here we go again in the first. I could kind of feel that and sense that.”
Gross allowed one run on four hits to earn the win. He walked two and struck out five.
Shewmake drove in first baseman Hunter Coleman with a sacrifice fly in the fifth after Coleman led off the inning with a double to left. The run ended a scoreless streak spanning back to the Aggies’ final two games of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
A&M took advantage of several Duke miscues, including three hit batters, to score four runs in the bottom of the ninth.
Ducoff reached with one out when Blue Devil reliever Thomas Girard hit him with a pitch. Logan Foster walked, and Zach DeLoach singled through the right side to drive in Ducoff and push Foster to third. A&M loaded the bases when Girard hit Hunter Coleman with a pitch, then the Aggies each advanced a base on a wild pitch and again on a passed ball with Foster and DeLoach scoring to cut Duke’s lead to 8-4.
Ty Coleman kept the rally alive with a single up the middle to drive in Hunter Coleman, and Duke’s Matt Dockman took over on the mound.
Duke forced out Ty Coleman at second base on Shewmake’s fielder’s choice ground ball, but Dockman hit Blaum with a pitch to put two runners on as Childress elected to pinch hit for three-hole hitter Blake, sending Ty Condel to the plate. Condel hit a grounder to shortstop, and the Blue Devils forced out Blaum at second to end the game as Dockman earned his first save of the season.
“It’s a shot of confidence for our offense,” Hunter Coleman said of the ninth-inning rally. “We’ve been struggling a little bit, but to just kind of go in and take something from them ... [it gives] us kind of a little momentum going into [Saturday] when our back is against the wall.”
The Aggies will have to work their way through the losers’ bracket of the double-elimination regional, next taking the field at 1 p.m. Saturday against Fordham. Sophomore left-hander Asa Lacy (7-4) will start for A&M against the Rams, whom the Aggies swept in the opening series of the season at Blue Bell Park in February.
“Obviously, Fordham has our upmost respect,” Childress said. “We’ve got our hands full regardless of who we play.
NOTES — Before Duke’s four-run outburst, A&M had held opponents to 15 runs in the fourth inning overall this season. It was the second lowest output by A&M’s opposition in a single inning not counting the ninth. ... A&M had scored just 11 runs in the ninth inning this season before Friday’s four-run rally.