HOUSTON–Something happened on the way to a crisp pitcher’s duel: Texas A&M’s bats woke up, and UC Irvine lefthander Daniel Bibona ran out of gas. The Aggies broke open a 1-1 game with seven runs in the sixth, sending 12 batters to the plate and chasing Bibona. Texas A&M cruised to a 9-2 win in the opener of the Houston College Classic.
Senior first baseman Luke Anders keyed and capped the sixth-inning outburst. His two-run homer to left field opened the floodgates, and his two-run single to right later in the frame put a bow on the rally. The home run came on a Bibona fastball up and over the outer half of the plate following a series of offspeed pitches.
"For a guy like that, he’s real tricky–he’ll come in lefty-on-lefty, so he’s got me out front, got me out front, and I kept fighting it off," Anders said. "I knew one pitch or another he was going to try to sneak one (fastball) by me, so I was just trying to wait on that pitch, and I was lucky enough to get it. I love to go opposite field–most teams try to pitch me inside, try to jam me and roll me over, and they always play me pull. So any chance on a pitch out over the plate, I try to go oppo."
Bibona and A&M lefthander Brooks Raley were both outstanding through five innings. Bibona struck out the side in order in the first and finished with six strikeouts over 5 1/3. He kept the A&M hitters off balance using an 85-87 mph fastball down in the zone, a 73-75 curveball and a plus 73-74 changeup. He wriggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth inning, allowing just one run on a wild pitch, but the momentum had shifted.
"It was an outstanding pitcher’s duel, and we had the big inning in the sixth, but I don’t think that was the big inning for us," Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said. "The big inning was the fifth inning. We only came away with one run, but we took 26 pitches from Bibona, and I felt like that was the turning point of the game."
Raley finished with six strong innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits and four walks. He ran his fastball up to 90-91 over the first few innings before settling into the 86-88 range later. His 81-83 slider was effective against righthanded hitters and lefties alike, and he mixed in a 75-77 curveball as a change of pace. Senior righty Kyle Thebeau followed with three scoreless innings to pick up the save, relying largely upon a 91-92 mph fastball with excellent life down in the zone.
"I liked their guys," Irvine coach Mike Gillespie said of the Aggies. "I thought Raley was good–real good. We had reason to know that coming in, and Thebeau has a real good arm. I think they’re what they’re cracked up to be in terms of the depth. They’ve got real good pitching left out there. It’s a really good team."
The most visible difference between the two teams today was how much more explosive A&M’s offense is. Both teams played strong defense, and if the game had stayed close into the late innings the Anteaters probably would have had an advantage thanks to their experience and ability to execute when it matters. But once the Aggies stretched their lead to three or four runs, I got the feeling that Irvine simply did not have enough firepower to come back, especially against a loaded A&M bullpen.
"There’s not much to feel good about the way it went, however, I don’t think it has to mean we can’t compete," Gillespie said. "Hats off–they were just a lot better than we were."
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