If you thought overcoming an ace losing both of his postseason starts en route to Omaha was hard, try getting there without your ace at all.
Texas A&M paved its way to the College World Series without John Stilson, the dependable No. 1 pitcher. Stilson, the Toronto Blue Jays’ third-round pick in this month’s MLB Draft, tore his labrum in May. The injury ended Stilson’s season but not A&M’s. The Aggies suffered losses in the Regional and Super Regional before triumphing in do-or-die elimination games to close out those rounds.
In both of those do-or-die games, sophomore Michael Wacha did his best to make Aggie fans miss Stilson a bit less. He beat Arizona with seven scoreless innings in the clinching victory of the College Station Regional and helped A&M get past Florida State with a 7.1-inning, two-run effort in the decisive Tallahassee Super Regional match-up. It was an interesting strategy to save the best pitcher for the end of the series instead of starting them at the beginning of the series, but it paid off.
Texas’ and Texas A&M’s last regular season games were against each other, a three-game series to decide the winner of the Big 12 regular season crown. The opening contest featured both teams’ best hurlers: Taylor Jungmann and Stilson. This postseason, neither pitcher has registered a victory as Jungmann is 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament despite going 13-0 in the regular season and Stilson has been sidelined with an injury. The Longhorns went on to win the game 4-2 and the series. It would be Stilson’s final start of the year.
It would also be the last time the Aggies were bested in a series or tournament, as they would go on to win the Big 12 Conference Tournament a week later. If Texas and Texas A&M are to meet again, it will be in Omaha for the championship.
Wacha has been just as impressive as Stilson was expected to be in these pivotal postseason games. But two outstanding pitchers are better than one, and to win their first two games, A&M would likely have to get through two of the top four seeds in the tournament: No. 4 South Carolina and No. 1 Virginia.
Then again, the Aggies’ unique path to postseason prominence begs the question: Can a team that surrenders 23 runs a week before their first College World Series game in a dozen years actually make noise in Omaha? That’s precisely what A&M did in Game 2 of the Super Regional when it fell to Florida State 23-9. Game 3, an 11-2 Aggie victory, may have provided the answer.
Neither Texas nor Texas A&M has gotten wins out of its aces this postseason after getting a combined 18 from them during the regular season yet are still headed for Omaha. The last time the two teams played, it decided a regular season conference title; a feat that seemed important at the time. Little did we know, College Station and Austin were playing host to teams destined for college baseball’s biggest stage — Omaha.