GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For Texas A&M head baseball coach Rob Childress, four runs should have been enough to win a series-opening Southeastern Conference matchup, but his pitching staff made it an impossibility.
The Aggies opened SEC play with a 13-4 loss to No. 5 Florida on Thursday as the Gators belted 16 hits and drew five walks to fuel the offensive onslaught.
“We just weren’t very good on the mound tonight,” Childress said. “Very proud of us offensively. Anytime you score four runs in a [series-opener] in the SEC, you ought to be right in the middle of things and have a chance to win it. At the end of the day, we weren’t good enough on the mound, and that’s the difference in the game.”
A&M starter Dustin Saenz (3-2) had trouble controlling his fastball, limiting him to just a slider for consistent strikes. By the third inning, Florida’s batters had acclimatized to the breaking pitch and quickly loaded the bases on two singles and a walk with no outs. Two more singles plated three runs.
The Aggies (15-5, 0-1) got a run back in the top of the fourth on Ty Coleman’s solo home run, but Saenz didn’t record an out in the bottom half as the Gators (14-5, 1-0) took control with a leadoff double by Mac Guscette and a two-run homer by nine-hole hitter Colby Halter for a 5-1 lead. That chased Saenz, who took the loss. He allowed eight hits and one walk with three strikeouts
Childress turned to sophomore left-hander Will Johnston out of the bullpen. Johnston had thrown just six innings in four appearances this season and recorded just two outs, allowing four runs on one hit, two walks and a hit batter. His wild pitch also allowed a run to score as Florida built a 9-1 lead with the six-run fourth.
“Johnston is a super-talented guy and one that we count on and we need dearly,” Childress said. “With where we were in the game, that’s the guy that we needed on the mound.”
Graduate transfer Chris Farrell got the final out of the bottom of the fourth, then worked a shutout fifth but let the first two Gators reach on a single and a walk in the sixth. Both came around to score.
Florida’s final two runs came off of Chris Weber, who spelled Farrell in the sixth and gave up a three-run home run to the D1Baseball.com preseason player of the year Jud Fabian.
Five walks ties the second most the Aggie pitching staff has given up this season, and the six strikeouts ties for the fewest.
Meanwhile, Florida starter Tommy Mace (4-0) lasted seven innings to earn the win. He gave up four runs, two earned, on six hits and struck out 11.
The Aggies attempted to jump on Mace early in the count, and Childress said the game plan was to hit Mace’s fastball as soon as he threw one over the plate.
“[Mace] is going to throw strike one with a fastball, and we were up there ready to hit it,” he said. “He’s super talented. You don’t want to get deep in the count with that guy. You want to get the fastball and don’t miss it.”
The Aggies bats came alive in the sixth as A&M chipped three runs off Florida’s lead. An Austin Bost double scored Ray Alejo, followed by a Coleman single up the middle driving in Bost. Left fielder Ryan Targac sent a sacrifice fly to center, ending A&M’s run production for the night.
Coleman finished 2 for 3 with a home run and two RBIs, while Bost went 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI.
A&M will start senior right-hander Bryce Miller on the mound for Game 2 at 5:30 p.m. Friday against junior right-hander Jack Leftwich as the Aggies try to even the series.
“We’re going to be better on the mound, and we’re going to be in the game,” Childress said.