Texas A&M's Lamkin shuts down South Carolina
HOOVER, Alabama -- Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle had a great feeling about Thursday's SEC Tournament game vs. South Carolina as soon as he woke up and made his way to breakfast at the team hotel.
Sitting there already was Aggies freshman lefthander Justin Lamkin, who a few hours later would go on to log his longest and best outing of the season as the Aggies eliminated the Gamecocks from the SEC Tournament with a 5-0 shutout on Thursday at the Hoover Met.
"I had a great feel that he was going to be ready to go when I walked down," Schlossnagle said. "I thought I was going to be the first guy at breakfast this morning, and he beat me there, so I knew he was ready to pitch. He's a great strike thrower for us, has a great future. (We're) building this program around guys like him."
The 10-seed Aggies thus also kept their own SEC Tournament championship hopes alive.
Lamkin started and held the Gamecocks to one hit over seven innings while walking three and striking out nine. He threw a career-high 99 pitches.
He credited his ability to throw strikes with all three of his pitches -- and the Texas A&M defense -- for his success.
"They're definitely good hitters. Give them props for that," Lamkin said of South Carolina's usually formidable lineup. "But I just felt really confident, and all three of my pitches and everything was working. I was filling up the zone, and the team made great plays behind me."
All that left for the Aggies to add to the mix was some offense. And that came in a cluster as they put up all five of their runs across a three-inning stretch in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
With one out in the bottom of the third, leadoff hitter Hunter Haas laid down a perfect bunt down the third-base line for a hit and then scored when Trevor Werner ripped one to right center for a triple, giving Texas A&M a 1-0 lead.
South Carolina center-fielder Evan Stone nearly made a spectacular catch of Werner's blast but as he slammed into the wall after a long run for it, the ball popped loose. Stone recovered just long enough to return the ball to the infield and then collapsed briefly. But he stayed in the game after it was determined he was just shaken up.
"I thought it was gone. I thought it was out for sure," said Werner, who led the Aggies with a 3-for-4 effort at the plate. "I thought the guy caught it at first but kept running, and he almost made a really great play. But I just got a good pitch, put a good swing on it, and just let it go."
The Aggies extended their lead when Jordan Thompson and Ryan Targac opened the inning with walks, followed by Austin Bost's double down the left-field line that scored Thompson and advanced Targac to third. Targac then scored on Brett Minnich's groundout, and Bost later crossed the plate for the third run of the inning on a sacrifice fly by Max Kaufer, making it 4-0.
Even when things seemed to go wrong, they turned out right for the Aggies.
They added an insurance run an inning later when Jack Moss struck out, but reached base when the ball got by South Carolina catcher Jonathan French. Moss moved to second when Werner singled, got to third on a fielder's choice by Jace LaViolette, and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Thompson.
That made it 5-0 and was more than enough for Lamkin and the two pitchers who mopped up behind him.
The first of those was Chris Cortez, who took over in the top of the eighth and struggled with his control as he walked the bases full. With two outs and the dangerous Gavin Casas at the plate with a team-leading 19 home runs on the season, lefty Matt Dillard replaced Cortez and got Casas to strike out looking. Dillard then pitched the ninth to earn the save.
Will Tippett produced the lone hit for South Carolina when he led off the fifth inning with an infield single to shortstop.
Austin Bost contributed two hits and two RBI for the Aggies, and Haas also added two hits.
But it all started, literally, with Lamkin. And it started at breakfast when Lamkin gave his coach a very good idea of what might lie ahead.
"I think I'm just being smarter, growing as a pitcher ... watching games, pitching in games, learning from previous outings and just going from there," Lamkin said.
HOW IT HAPPENED
B3 | With one out, Haas laid down a bunt single toward third base. Another out later, Werner tripled to right center, scoring Haas. Texas A&M 1, South Carolina 0.
B4 | Thompson and Targac walked to open the inning. Bost then doubled down the left-field line, scoring Thompson and advancing Targac to third. Minnich grounded out to shortstop, earning an RBI as Targac scored and Bost advanced to third. Kaufer lifted a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Bost. Texas A&M 4, South Carolina 0.
B5 | Becker replaced starting pitcher Mahoney for South Carolina. Moss struck out swinging, but reached first on a passed ball. Werner singled to center field, advancing Moss to second. LaViolette reached on a fielder's choice to second base, with Werner out at second and Moss advancing to third before scoring on a sac fly by Thompson. Texas A&M 5, South Carolina 0.
Texas A&M (35-24) will face the winner of Thursday's other elimination game between Auburn and Alabama, the start of which immediately followed completion of the game vs. South Carolina.
The 6-seed Gamecocks (39-19), while eliminated from the SEC Tournament, will await word on when and where they'll play in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.