Texas A&M freshman right fielder Jace LaViolette made note of the role of a slumpbuster through the course of a baseball season. A little bit of luck bouncing your way can turn the tide on a series headed in the wrong direction.
Sunday, the Aggie baseball team needed a little bit of luck to salvage the last game of its series against Portland and got it in the form of a walk-off rally in the ninth inning. After running through a stop sign from third base coach Nolan Cain, pinch runner Travis Chestnut slid home safely while Portland catcher Nich Klemp bobbled the throw, giving the Aggies a 5-4 victory at Blue Bell Park.
LaViolette, who entered Sunday’s game 0 for 8 for the series, knocked in the game-winning run.
“It’s baseball,” LaViolette said. “Baseball doesn’t always go the way you want it and you just kind of have to know that. We all, in the dugout and even in the locker room after those first two games, we just had to believe in each other and stick with it.”
A three-run home run in the top of the third by Portland designated hitter Tristan Gomes put the Pilots (5-2) on the front foot for the third time in the series. Portland added to its lead in the top of the fourth by scoring on a wild pitch that got under the block attempt by freshman catcher Max Kaufer.
The Aggies (4-3) plated a run in the bottom of the second on an RBI double by freshman left fielder Kaeden Kent and another on a groundout RBI by Austin Bost, but continued to struggle at plate, going 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position for the day.
The Aggies finally were able to string positive at-bats in the ninth. Pinch hitter Tab Tracy led off the inning with a two-strike single and Hunter Haas walked. First baseman Jack Moss lined a single to right, scoring Tracy.
LaViolette went to the plate looking for a fastball. In the fifth, he got slump-busting luck when a towering popup behind Portland shortstop Spencer Scott and in front of the oncoming outfielders fell for a bloop double. A swirling wind wreaked havoc on Portland’s fielders throughout the game.
“I hadn’t been swinging it too well, as you may know, and honestly, just take it back a few at-bats, I put a ball in there that just bleeds. I needed that — a little slumpbuster to get me going there,” LaViolette said.
On the 1-2 pitch in the ninth, LaViolette didn’t miss, hitting a double down the right-field line, scoring Haas easily. Chestnut, who was pinch running for Moss, should have been retired, but Klemp had trouble handing the short-hopped throw.
“I play way more attention to the standard of how we play than I do the score, but I’ll take that win for sure,” A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “We didn’t run the bases well in that last inning, but we ran through a stop sign at TCU in 2016 and won a Super Regional against the Aggies. Freaking Chestnut runs through a stop sign there and scores the winning run. I guess the team I’m on, that tends to work out, but that’s not a habit we want to get into.”
A&M honored the Corps of Cadets with a special uniform modeled after those worn by the Corps. As an added bonus for any hitter who drove in an RBI, Parsons Mounted Cavalry stood ready over the left-field fence with a cannon to fire in the same fashion at A&M football games after the Aggies score.
LaViolette, and all of the Aggie hitters, relished the chance to set off a real-life explosion with a swing of a bat. After his final hit, the freshman got two smoke-inducing fires.
“That was a good little touch to it today,” he said. “That was awesome.”
Before the bottom of the ninth, finding that killer instinct had been a struggle throughout the week for the Aggies who also lost on Tuesday to Lamar. In four games, the Aggies were 5 for 34 with runners in scoring position and stranded 33 runners.
“Hitting is the toughest part of the game and it can snowball on you so fast,” Schlossnagle said. “You really just need one big hit, which maybe this will be it, to kind of get you going.”
A&M reliever Evan Aschenbeck reversed a trend of poor bullpen performances over the week to earn his first win of the year in his first career appearance for the Aggies. Aschenbeck had four scoreless innings, giving up three hits and no walks, while striking out four.
“You’ve got to start thinking about that guy in a lot of different roles, whether it be a starter — but you don’t know until you put them out there,” Schlossnagle said. “He’s thrown strikes since he’s been here, but honestly, we’ve gotten great swings on him. He’s never touched 92 mph. You don’t know until you put them in the game.”
Aschenbeck, a Brenham native and a transfer from Blinn, spent plenty of time in Blue Bell Park growing up and relished the opportunity to take the mound for the Aggies.
“I grew up 45 minutes from here in Brenham, so I grew up coming to games and it was always a dream to come here,” he said. “This is what they talk about 'Olsen Magic.' This is what it is.”
Though A&M starting pitcher Chris Cortes allowed all Portland’s runs, he kept the hitters off-balance with a steady stream of off-speed pitches to pair with his upper-90s fastball. He allowed three hits in five innings, struck out six and walked five.
“I thought he pitched fine,” Schlossnagle said. “All of his runs were with two outs. I thought he kept us in the ballgame.”
LaViolette’s timely piece of hitting staved off what would have been a historic loss for the Aggies. The last time A&M baseball was swept in a three-game, conference series at home was in 1986 by McNeese.
“I don’t think we played that bad,” Schlossnagle said. “I just think Portland plays better and they played better for almost 27 innings.