Maybe it’s the pressure. Maybe it’s the crowd. Maybe it’s the moment.
Whatever it is, Texas A&M isn’t handling it well.
The Longhorns clinched their second consecutive outright Big 12 regular-season title Saturday with a little help from the Aggies, who made a key late-inning error for the second straight night. That helped Texas claim a 3-2 victory in front of 5,097 fans at UFCU Disch-Falk Field when Josh Prince hit a two-out single to center field in the eighth inning, scoring Chais Fuller.
“This feels great,” said Prince, a freshman who’s gone from starting at shortstop to the bench to a stint as a relief pitcher to getting the title-clinching hit. “I was just looking for something up that I could drive, and I was able to put the ball in center field.”
The error came right before Prince’s hit, when Fuller was at the plate.
With one out and Nick Peoples on first, Fuller hit a ground ball for what looked to be an inning-ending double play. Aggies shortstop Brandon Hicks fielded the ball and flipped it to second baseman Parker Dalton, who threw a perfect toss to first baseman Blake Stoeffer.
The ball went off Stoeffer’s glove toward the Aggies’ dugout, allowing Fuller not only to be safe but to advance to second.
“That’s a ball I’ve caught a million times,” Stoeffer said. “I thought I had it. I really couldn’t believe it.”
Neither could Fuller.
“I thought it was a double play,” he said. “I knew it was. But I just ran as hard as I could and it worked out. I didn’t believe it.”
Neither did Texas A&M coach Rob Childress, whose Aggies (41-14, 13-12 Big 12) have made a combined five late-inning errors in the first two games.
“I did feel that we tightened up,” Childress said. “We got a little bit tight there in the late innings as Texas put more pressure on us. And we’re going to have to work on that. It can’t be a process. It has to be now, because we have a good enough team here.”
As does Texas (41-14, 20-6), which won its fourth regular-season Big 12 title.
As much as the Longhorns owe it to Fuller and Prince, they owe it just as much to reliever Joseph Krebs, who gave up two hits in 4 1/3 scoreless innings after relieving a struggling Adrian Alaniz.
“Krebs’ lengthy outing is the reason we won,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said. “He came in there and took control of the game by changing the pace and attacking hitters.”
Krebs (7-1) struck out two batters in a perfect eighth inning before handing it over to Randy Boone. Texas’ closer came in after the Longhorns took the lead, and he struck out the side in the ninth inning to earn his 12th save.
Texas A&M took an early lead for the second straight game, but Texas tied it by scoring single runs in the fourth and fifth innings.
Fuller, who also came up with a big hit in Friday night’s win, smacked an RBI single to left. In the fifth, Jordan Danks walked, went to third on Kyle Russell’s single and scored on Chance Wheeless’ single down the left-field line.
“It was another game where we just kept fighting,” Fuller said. “It was nice that we were able to win the title by winning instead of needing Missouri to lose.”
Alaniz, Texas’ ace this season, gave up two runs, six hits and four walks in one of his worst outings, covering just 3 2/3 innings.
“Adrian obviously was trying a little too hard out there, and it was messing with his timing,” Garrido said.
But Alaniz’s poor performance offered the perfect time for his teammates to step up.
“That’s what this team is all about, picking up the next guy,” Prince said. “None of us would be here if it wasn’t for our teammates. That’s why we’re Big 12 champs.”