After sweeping through the Chapel Hill Regional, the Davidson Wildcats have turned their first NCAA tournament appearance into a super regional. But they’ll have to get through College Station, Texas, where Texas A&M is looking for its sixth trip to the College World Series and its first since 2011.
The Aggies (39-21) aren’t as stocked as they’ve been in recent years, losing six position starters and seven pitchers from last season’s 49-win team. But after barely sneaking into this year’s NCAA tournament field, Texas A&M swept its regional for the third straight season -- one of two No. 3 seeds to make this season’s super regional round.
Meanwhile, Davidson (35-24) was the second No. 4 seed to ever sweep a regional and has already put together the best season in school history.
Here are five things to know about the best-of-3 series, which starts on Friday at 3 p.m. (EDT)
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While Texas A&M will enter this weekend’s series as the likely favorite, it’s the Wildcats who are playing like the team to beat.
Davidson has ripped off 10 wins in its past 11 games, including an Atlantic 10 tournament title and an unlikely sweep of No. 2 national seed North Carolina in Chapel Hill. On the other end, the Aggies dropped eight of their final 10 games – including an SEC tournament loss to Missouri, a team not in the NCAA field – before being one of the “last four in” for the NCAA tournament.
To its credit, Texas A&M has picked it up as of late, holding off host Houston’s ninth-inning surge to complete the regional sweep. And by virtue of facing a lesser seed in Davidson, the Aggies will have their home crowd behind them for the weekend series.
The 10th man
Similar to the “12th man” in football, Texas A&M boasts one of the loudest atmospheres in sports at Blue Bell Park. The $24 million stadium seats 6,100 -- about 2,000 more than UNC’s Boshamer Stadium -- and will surely feature fewer Davidson fans than were in the stands for the Chapel Hill Regional.
“They’re the rowdiest crowd in baseball,” Davidson right fielder Will Robertson said.
It was a point of emphasis at the Wildcats’ practice Tuesday, and for good reason. Shortstop Max Bazin remembers the hostile crowd at South Carolina, but he said the atmosphere of that midweek game couldn’t compare to a super regional. The road environment will be unlike anything Davidson has faced this year.
Star at second base
Days after their win in Chapel Hill, the Wildcats knew little about the Aggies’ roster. But there’s one player who will quickly catch their eye.
Second baseman Braden Shewmake is one of the best middle infielders in the country, winning SEC Freshman of the Year and earning All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball – the only freshman to make the cut. The freshman is hitting .333 through 60 games and leads Texas A&M in hits (85), home runs (11) and RBIs (67).
Robertson is putting up numbers for Davidson – hitting .336 with a program-record 18 home runs – and is the only player from the Atlantic 10 to earn All-America honors by Collegiate Baseball. But Shewmake will be the main attraction on the field this weekend.
Battle on the mound
Aggies coach Rob Childress has earned a reputation as one of the top pitching coaches in baseball. It’s no surprise that he’s got a staff to match.
Reliever Kaylor Chafin leads all active Aggies with a 2.38 ERA, and he hasn’t allowed an earned run in the NCAA tournament. Starter Corbin Martin – the No. 23 prospect by Baseball America – has three straight quality starts to his name. Even Stephen Kolek, brother of former No. 2 pick Tyler Kolek, went 8 1/3 innings with one run and nine strikeouts in the regional-clinching win against Houston.
Durin O’Linger has been a workhorse for the Wildcats – throwing 364 pitches in five postseason appearances – and starter Josh Hudson has impressed in his past two starts. Yet those two might not be enough to outduel Texas A&M’s stable of arms.
Davidson’s postseason history, or lack thereof, seems to be the lone talking point of this season’s tournament run. But in a matchup like this, it bears repeating.
The Aggies have made 11 straight NCAA tournaments and 33 overall. They’ve made eight trips to the super regionals and five to the College World Series. They’ve swept their regional for three straight years and are one of six SEC teams remaining.
Before Friday, the Wildcats had never played in the NCAA tournament.
That doesn’t seem to faze Davidson’s players. If anything, Bazin said, the pressure is on Texas A&M to match its previous successes. After all, none of the players for either side has ever been past this point. Childress has taken the Aggies to the College World Series before, though, so his experience could play a factor this weekend.
C Jackson Cowart: @CJacksonCowart