HOOVER, Ala. — Texas A&M’s pitching has gone from hopeless to invigorating, and the team’s postseason outlook has risen as a result.
A&M’s Will Johnston and Evan Aschenbeck combined for another solid performance on the mound as the Aggies topped third-ranked LSU 5-4 on Friday to reach the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
A&M (35-24) will play fourth-ranked Arkansas (41-15) at noon Saturday. The other semifinal game will feature second-ranked Florida (44-13) vs. sixth-ranked Vanderbilt (39-18).
The postseason continues to bring out the best in A&M as the 10th-seeded Aggies are only the fourth 10th-seeded team or worse to make the SEC semifinals and is seeking to be the first to reach the title game.
Pitching is the reason why.
A&M had a 7.37 earned run average during the SEC regular season, which was reflected in its 14-16 record. Since stepping foot in the Hoover Met, however, the Aggies have a sparkling 1.89 ERA with a pair of one-hit shutouts while going 3-1 this week.
LSU (43-15), which won two of three games against A&M to open SEC regular-season play at Blue Bell Park, banged out 12 hits but went just 3 for 20 with runners in scoring position.
The Tigers’ last frustration came courtesy of left-hander Aschenbeck, who worked out of a ninth-inning jam. He stranded runners on the corners by striking out Gavin Dugas and getting Brayden Jobert to pop up. They had been a combined 3 for 8.
“Evan had to make a great pitch to get him there in the end, and Jobert had been staying on the ball,” A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Evan just continued to make good pitches, and we were able to win the ballgame.”
Aschenbeck (8-1) worked three innings, allowing four hits and one run. The junior transfer from Blinn struck out four and walked one.
A&M gave him the lead with four runs in the seventh. Senior Brett Minnich’s sacrifice fly scored junior Ryan Targac, who had walked and moved to third on senior Austin Bost’s double. No. 9 hitter Max Kaufer walked, leading LSU to change relievers with sophomore right-hander Sam Dutton replacing freshman left-hander Griffin Herring.
A&M junior Hunter Haas greeted Dutton by blasting an 0-1 pitch over the left-field fence for a three-run homer, giving the Aggies a 5-3 lead. Haas had struck out in his first three at-bats.
“The way the ball has been flying all week here in the morning ... the afternoon [it] hasn’t been carrying, so I didn’t really know if it was out or not,” Haas said. “So I was kind of hustling out of the box, but obviously I was very excited to see it go over the fence.”
Johnston started and kept the game close with six solid innings, allowing eight hits. The junior left-hander struck out seven and walked three in giving A&M its third quality start of the tournament. LSU nicked him for single runs in the second, fourth and fifth innings but couldn’t get a big enough hit to build more than a two-run lead.
LSU did, however, build its lead as junior right-hander Ty Floyd allowed only three hits in five innings, striking out seven and walking one.
“I thought LSU had a grip on the game,” Schlossnagle said. “Floyd was outstanding.”
LSU’s bullpen wasn’t as Herring and Dutton were touched for four runs on only two hits over 1 1/3 innings.
A&M had only seven hits, three by Haas.