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Texas A&M Baseball

Series Preview: A&M eyes third-straight series win at South Carolina

April 5, 2024
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Also included above is a radio segment with Ryan Brauninger, Richard Zane and Scott Clendenin from Friday morning, previewing this weekend’s series at No. 22 South Carolina.


Who: South Carolina (21-8, 5-4 SEC)
Where: Founders Park – Columbia, South Carolina
When:

Friday: 6 p.m. CT (SEC Network+)
Saturday: 3 p.m. CT (SEC Network+)
Sunday: 12:30 p.m. CT (SEC Network+)

Pitching matchups

Friday: LHP Ryan Prager (5-0, 2.21 ERA) vs. RHP Eli Jones (2-0, 2.46)
Saturday: RHP Tanner Jones (1-1, 4.70) vs. RHP Tyler Pitzer (4-0, 1.99)
Sunday: LHP Justin Lamkin (2-0, 1.48) vs. TBA

Scouting South Carolina

The last time South Carolina hosted the No. 3 team in the nation, they came away with an impressive sweep of Vanderbilt, holding the Commodores to just nine runs in the series. That was just two weeks ago, and it vaulted the Gamecocks into the national polls and near the top of the SEC standings. So this team is very capable of taking down the No. 3 Aggies this weekend at Founders Park.

This will be Texas A&M’s first trip to Columbia since the 2019 season when the Maroon & White took two games on the road. They also defeated the Gamecocks in the SEC Tournament last year 5-0 behind the masterful performance of Justin Lamkin, who threw seven innings of shutout baseball and allowed just a single hit. Unfortunately for South Carolina, they will face him again on Sunday.    

At the plate, the Gamecocks lead the nation in free passes, walking an average of 7.7 times a game. Texas A&M’s pitching is one of the best staffs in the SEC at avoiding the base on balls, so this is a good place to start when looking at key matchups. Let’s also throw in the equation that the Aggies are No. 2 in the country in drawing walks averaging 7.3 a game. So, the winner of the free pass battle has a good chance to take this series.

Kelly Cothern, TexAgs
Texas A&M has won five of the last seven meetings with the Gamecocks.

Patience at the plate and drawing walks are a big component of the South Carolina offense. The Gamecocks are hitting just .273 as a team, and only two players with more than five home runs on the season. Ethan Petry is one of those two players with long ball power leading the team in hitting (.327) with 12 homers and 28 RBI. He also leads the team with 29 walks and an on-base percentage of .511. Cole Messina leads the team with 30 RBI and has left the yard 10 times in 2024, despite hitting .279. Dylan Brewer is a good hitter (.326) with 10 steals, but he doesn’t possess a major power swing.

Overall, South Carolina has just three batters hitting over .300 and only a couple of guys with double-digit home runs. If Texas A&M pitching can limit the free passes, there’s a good chance to keep the Gamecocks off the base paths and off the scoreboard in this series. If the Aggies struggle with the strike zone, that could lead to trouble against a patient South Carolina lineup.

The Gamecocks proved against Vanderbilt they have the capability to shut down any offense in a conference weekend series. They rely on the strong starting pitching of right-hander Eli Jones (2-0, 2.46 ERA), who will take the hill on Friday against Ryan Prager. It won’t get any easier for the Aggies on Saturday when they face another righty, Tyler Pitzer, who has been masterful this season with a perfect 4-0 record and a minuscule 1.99 ERA. South Carolina has struggled to find a consistent answer on Sundays, and head coach Mark Kingston has not announced a starter for Sunday. The Gamecocks do have one very good arm in the bullpen in Ty Good, with a 4-0 record, one save and a 2.42 ERA.

But overall, Texas A&M does have a statistical advantage over South Carolina in most categories at the plate and on the mound. The clean-fielding Aggies also hold the defensive advantage with a sparkling .984 fielding percentage compared to a solid .973 for the Gamecocks.

Hitting Avg. Runs/Game Slugging % On-Base % Strikeouts/Game
Aggies .305 9.0 .564 .440 8.2
Gamecocks .273 8.2 .489 .435 10.6

 

Pitching ERA WHIP Walks/Game Opp. Avg. K/Game Fielding
Aggies 3.21 1.16 3.1 .218 11.5 .984
Gamecocks 4.16 1.25 3.7 .219 9.9 .973


Texas A&M storylines to watch

First of all, can Braden Montgomery continue to produce at the torrid pace he’s been on in the first half of the season? The numbers are truly amazing. He leads the team in batting average (.385), home runs (17), runs batted in (51), total bases (104) and on-base percentage (.518). He’s been simply amazing. He has no weaknesses at the plate. He can hit to all parts of the field. He’s patient at the plate (27 walks). He is second in the SEC in home runs. A very good case can be made that he’s on pace to be the collegiate offensive player of the year.

The offense runs through the veteran transfer. If he stays hot this weekend, it’s hard to imagine A&M losing this series. I suspect Gamecock pitching will be very cautious with Montgomery and pitch around him, so that means guys like Jackson Appel, Ted Burton and Hayden Schott will have RBI opportunities. If these guys in the middle of the lineup can be productive, it will be a good weekend for the Maroon & White.

Will Huffman, TexAgs
The Aggies enter the weekend riding a six-game win streak and are off to their best start since 2015.

The other big storyline offensively is getting Jace LaViolette back on track. He’s been struggling at the plate recently and has seen his batting average drop over 50 points in the past couple of weeks. He’s been getting under the ball and popping up way too many times for a player of his caliber.

Despite his struggles over the past couple of weeks, the Aggies have still managed to go 5-1 in conference play during this cold stretch. That says something about the rest of the lineup. It also says if (and when) the all-American center fielder gets his swing back, opposing pitchers will have nightmares with this lineup, especially when leadoff hitter Gavin Grahovac is pounding the ball with nine homers, 36 RBI and 39 runs scored. It’s a daunting lineup, any way you slice it.

On the mound, A&M will need quality starts from Ryan Prager and Tanner Jones, given the elite starting pitching on the other side. If the Aggies can get a gem out of either starter on Friday or Saturday and get a victory, the Sunday rubber match greatly favors the Aggies with a red-hot Justin Lamkin throwing against a yet-to-be-announced pitcher.

The Aggies still need to find a little more consistent depth in the bullpen. Evan Aschenbeck is the one consistent bullpen arm that head coach Jim Schlossnagle can trust. Brad Rudis has been fantastic so far this season, but he hasn’t been placed in many high-leverage situations. He’s worked his way into a spot where he’ll get the ball in a high-pressure situation this weekend, and it will be key to the season going forward if he can handle these big game opportunities. Josh Stewart is another hurler who has moved his way up the pecking order, but I wouldn't say he’s earned trusted status just yet. A good outing or two this weekend could change that in a hurry. Freshman Isaac Morton has electric stuff, but he’s also been plagued with control problems at times. He’s another arm to watch this weekend. Will he be called upon in a high-leverage situation?

Overall on the mound, this series will be won or lost on controlling the strike zone and avoiding walks. South Carolina has a couple of dangerous hitters, but the lineup is manageable as long as the staff doesn’t get behind in the count and fill the bases with free passes.     

What’s at stake this weekend

It’s another tough weekend series against a ranked SEC opponent. This time the Aggies are on the road to face No. 22 South Carolina in Columbia. The first rule of thumb is to avoid the sweep on the road. At 6-3 in the SEC through three weeks, A&M can digest a 1-2 weekend with much heartburn. There’s no disgrace in dropping a road series against a quality foe like the Gamecocks. So job one is to win at least one game.

Now, if the Aggies can flex their muscles as the No. 3 team in the nation and win the series, the squad is well on its way to a special regular season, and a top national seed is very much in A&M’s sights. Sweep the Cocks, and the Aggies are in a position to challenge Arkansas for the SEC title. But first things first, Jim Schlossnagle’s bunch needs to win at least one game, and the rest is gravy.   

Discussion from...

Series Preview: A&M eyes third-straight series win at South Carolina

4,047 Views | 2 Replies | Last: 2 mo ago by sanaug
Ag in ATL
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AG
Great write-up Hop!

A heaping helping of gravy? Yes please!
sanaug
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AG
Thanks Hop.
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