Texas A&M’s College World Series came to an end, but a historic 2022 run was just the beginning

Texas A&M’s College World Series came to an end, but a historic 2022 run was just the beginning

From the moment that ESPN color analyst Ben McDonald said the words “that was about as dirty as a Bourbon Street martini,” A&M was in trouble against Oklahoma. Again.

Sooners starter David Sandlin was a magician on the mound. With the exception of a solo blast from Dylan Rock, there was nothing that A&M could do to solve Sandlin and keep its season alive.

A 5-1 loss to red-hot Oklahoma in Wednesday’s College World Series semifinal put an end to the Aggies’ run in Omaha. It would’ve taken not 1, but 2 victories against the Sooners to reach the College World Series final for the first time in program history.

Then again, it was already a historic year. Big picture? A&M was playing with house money just by being 1 of the last 4 standing. That feat was indeed historic in itself. In Year 1, Jim Schlossnagle is already the program’s all-time leader in College World Series victories.

That bar is awfully high moving forward. I mean think about it. In Year 1 after a last-place finish in the SEC West, A&M started off unranked and was 2 wins away from playing for a national title. It finished in first in the SEC West and sent the likes of Texas and Notre Dame home in elimination games in Omaha. Not too shabby for a team with 15 new faces.

Not every group of future Aggies will check all of those boxes — sending the Longhorns home in dominant fashion and watching Micah Dallas throw the Horns Down repeatedly might’ve been a 1 of 1 situation — but it’s remarkable to think about the buy-in with a first year coach. Castle Nail preached patience. So what did his team do? It saw more pitches per plate appearance than anyone in the country. In all 4 games at Charles Schwab Field, the Aggies didn’t swing at a single first pitch the first time through the lineup.

Against Sandlin on Wednesday, that formula backfired. Why? The right-hander’s breaking ball was, well, about as dirty as a Bourbon Street martini. Getting behind in the count against stuff that good proved to be too tall of a task.

It also proved to be too tall of a task for A&M starter Ryan Prager to keep the Oklahoma bats silent. Just as he did in the CWS opener on Friday, Jimmy Crooks fueled Oklahoma with a 3-run home run into the right field bullpen. It wasn’t the start Prager hoped for, but getting a true freshman a chance on that stage will benefit the Aggies down the road.

If there was an obvious Achilles heel with the 2022 A&M squad, it was the starting pitching. The transfer portal overhaul was better for the bats than the arms. Once Schlossnagle has a chance to recruit and develop with highly regarded pitching coach Nate Yeskie, that should become a strength.

That’s the other part of A&M’s run that should be encouraged. The transfer portal success in this new era should have decorated players lining up to come to College Station.

Jacob Palisch, who became a lights out reliever — his 5 1/3 innings of tank-emptying relief work was the only thing that prevented Oklahoma from running away with it — just became a star after leaving Stanford. Jack Moss (Arizona State), Troy Claunch (Oregon State) and the aforementioned Dallas (Texas Tech) all left Power 5 programs to become studs for the Aggies. That’s not even including guys like Rock (UT-San Antonio) and Kole Kaler (Hawai’i), who were recruited from smaller schools to become instant plug-and-play guys.

Schlossnagle probably won’t need to be as active in the portal moving forward, but from a talent evaluation standpoint, that’s clearly not going to hold him back. He’s going to put a contending roster on the field on a yearly basis. We’ll see what A&M’s draft-eligible players do — the decision of Trevor Werner will be significant — but there’s still plenty to be encouraged by if you’re an Aggie fan.

Go back to when Ross Bjork announced the hiring of Schlossnagle. It was the A&M athletic director’s first time getting to hire for 1 of the 4 major revenue sports (baseball, football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball). At his introduction last June, Bjork cited that Schlossnagle was tied for 1st among active coaches in College World Series victories. It was, in every way, a no-doubter hire to poach the longtime TCU coach.

But no-doubter hires doesn’t always guarantee success. In 2014, a proud program like Arizona State made a no-doubter hire of Indiana’s Tracy Smith a year removed from leading the program to its first ever College World Series trip. But at Arizona State, Smith never even reached a Super Regional and he was fired after 7 seasons.

Schlossnagle, however, already looks like the perfect person to usher A&M baseball into the new era. That new era of SEC baseball will soon feature familiar foes Oklahoma and Texas. In Year 1, Schlossnagle didn’t have a better team than Oklahoma. Two afternoons with the Sooners in Omaha showed A&M that much. Soon, though, maybe it’ll be a different story.

The 2022 squad will be remembered as the group who established a rock solid foundation for A&M. It’s a program that no longer has to hear about a losing streak in Omaha that dated back to 1993. Perhaps in a matter of years, it won’t have to hear about not having a national title, either.

After Wednesday’s season-ending loss, Claunch was asked if he could put into words his feelings about the season and coming to A&M for his last year of eligibility. “No I can’t,” he said (via Travis Brown).

Once the dust settles on A&M’s run, there’ll be 3 words that Claunch and others can use to describe the first year of the Schlossnagle era.

“The new standards.”

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