Texas A&M tiptoed into the SEC Baseball Tournament as a borderline NCAA postseason team, but the Aggies are leaving little doubt they belong.
An impressive finishing kick this week — including wins over No. 25 Vanderbilt and No. 7 Georgia — lifts A&M onto the right side of the bubble, according to projections, before Selection Monday. The Aggies (38-19) played 24th-ranked Auburn (39-19) in the winners’ bracket Thursday evening.
“We understand the importance of these games,” A&M Coach Rob Childress told reporters in Birmingham, Ala. “There are so many high-powered teams in this conference. You have to be almost perfect to have a chance to win.”
The Aggies should have plenty of company from the state when the 64-team NCAA field is revealed Memorial Day (11 a.m., ESPNU), though nothing to match last year’s record-setting 10 NCAA bids for the state. The Big 12 sent a record-tying seven teams to the 2017 tournament; that number could shrink to five in 2018.
With conference tournaments in full swing this weekend, seven state teams are a good bet to earn NCAA invitations: Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Baylor, Dallas Baptist, Houston and Texas Southern, which has already qualified by winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament last week.
Southland Conference regular-season champ Sam Houston State is another contender, but the Bearkats (38-19, 50 RPI) lost their conference tournament opener and will have to battle back through the consolation bracket — or sneak in with one of the last NCAA at-large spots.
Dallas Baptist (36-18) also was upset in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament opener, but the Patriots’ No. 36 RPI probably will be good enough.
TCU (31-22, 10-13), which lost slugger Luken Baker and top pitcher Jared Janczak to season-ending injuries in April, has struggled and is saddled with a 64 RPI, though the Horned Frogs did clobber Tech 12-2 Wednesday. They must win the Big 12 Tournament to reach the NCAAs and make a run at their fifth consecutive College World Series.
“A lot of things have to go right for us against good teams,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said, “but we have seen underdogs win this event before.”
West Virginia (28-25, 9-15) is in a similar tough spot, though the Mountaineers (51 RPI) got off on the right foot by beating Oklahoma State on Wednesday.
Texas Tech (38-16, 5 RPI), which has reached Omaha two of the past four years, is a lock to host a regional next week. Josh Jung (.389 average, 71 RBIs), Grant Little (.374, 66 RBIs) and the Red Raiders are second in the nation in scoring at 8.6 runs per game.
Texas (37-20) was a virtual certainty to play regional host, though its quick flame-out in Oklahoma City gives the selection committee cause for pause. Geography should work in the Longhorns’ favor as the NCAA could use an additional Southwest site, and Austin is the only candidate outside of Lubbock.
What the state or Big 12 might not have is a top-eight national seed set up for a super regional. Tech is the only candidate. In recent years Tech, TCU and A&M have held super regionals.
A&M has won three straight regionals and went to the CWS last year. The Aggies were just 13-17 this year in the SEC, which is likely to draw 10 NCAA bids Monday.
Yet A&M is talented, with players such as shortstop Braden Shewmake (.326, 42 RBIs) and second baseman Michael Heiman (.366, 55 runs, 21 extra-base hits) and a 3.29 staff ERA.
Projections show the Aggies as a regional No. 3 seed anywhere from Lubbock to Corvallis, Ore., to Minneapolis.
ROAD TO OMAHA
Through Sunday: Conference tournaments
Monday: Selection show, 64-team field is revealed, 11 a.m. (ESPNU)
June 1-4: NCAA regionals, 16 sites
June 8-11: Super regionals, 8 sites
June 16-27: College World Series, Omaha
The two likely regionals in Texas could look like this:
Austin: 1-Texas, 2-Mississippi State, 3-Houston, 4-Texas Southern
Lubbock: 1-Texas Tech, 2-UCLA, 3-Dallas Baptist, 4-Saint Louis