The Aggies led UC Santa Barbara 4-0 after three innings – getting a two-run double from first baseman Cole Lankford in the third – and escaped the Gauchos seventh-inning rally by turning to closer Jason Jester. That got them a 5-4 victory and a shot at the Corvallis Regional’s top-seed, Oregon State.
“They are the home team and they are the No. 3 national seed,” A&M coach Rob Childress said. “They are well rested and everything that could go Oregon State’s way this weekend, it has. For us, it is going to be a huge challenge because they have everything in their favor.”
Jester worked 2 1/3 innings for his 14th save, leaving his status in doubt for A&M’s night game against the 2-0 Beavers. An OSU win gives the Beavers the regional title and a Super Regional date in Corvallis next weekend, while an A&M win extends this regional to a winner-take-all contest on Monday.
The Aggies (34-28) caught a break in the bottom of the seventh after UCSB’s Woody Woodward doubled and scored on Tyler Kuresa’s single. Cameron Newell hit a grounder to Aggie third baseman Hunter Melton, who flipped the ball to Blake Allemand at second. Kuresa slid into Allemand and Newell was called out as well on the runner’s interference.
“I thought he slide straight into the bag and infielder made contact on top of him,” UCSB coach Andrew Checketts said. “I thought it was a little bit of an emotional call. I thought he slid straight in and it was a clean slide.”
The Gauchos went on to score two more runs in the inning – on a hit batter, a walk, and infield single by Marc Venning and clutch pinch-hit, two-run single up the middle by Joe Morrow.
That was all the Gauchos were able to get, as Childress turned to Jester to finish the inning and save the game.
“We knew they were going to make a run at some point and they did,” Childress said. “I guess we were very fortunate in the sixth inning to get out of there with only one run and then they came and made a move in the seventh, but we were able to make it stand up with Jester.”
UCSB finished 35-25 in Checketts’ second season, making its first regional appearance since 2001. They opened the regional with a solid win over A&M before falling to OSU 3-2 Saturday night.