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Mr. Clutch! Claunch’s walk-off single puts A&M on precipice of Omaha

Game #59: #5 Texas A&M 5, #12 Louisville 4
Records: Texas A&M (41-18, 19-11), Louisville (42-20-1, 18-11-1)
WP: Jacob Palisch (6-3)
LP: Michael Prosecky (2-1)
Box Score

Frequently on the ropes, Louisville seemingly adopted the strategy of the city’s favorite son, Muhammad Ali, and played rope-a-dope.

Time and again, the Texas A&M was left swinging ineffectively.

But in the ninth inning, Aggie catcher Troy Claunch finally landed a knockout punch with a bases-loaded single to lift A&M over the visiting Cardinals, 5-4, on Friday night (and/or perhaps Saturday morning) in the first baseball game of the NCAA Super Regionals before a crowd of 6,732 at Blue Bell Park.

The Aggies (41-18) again face the Cardinals (42-20-1) at 2 p.m. on Saturday with a chance to clinch a place in the 2022 College World Series.

Jamie Maury, TexAgs

Claunch’s walk-off single was his second hit of the night. “Mr. Clutch” finished 2-for-4 with two singles and two RBIs.

“Nothing they do surprises me,” Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle said of his team after another come-from-behind victory, which has become commonplace. “Just when you think they’ve taken another punch — and there’s so many teams that I’ve ever seen or been a part of — where you take that punch, and you fold. These guys just move on to the next play. They just move on to it.”

The Aggies were often moving in place. Four times previously — the first, second, sixth and eighth innings — they failed to notch a big hit with the bases loaded.

But with two out in the ninth, Claunch came up clutch.

He stroked a first-pitch fastball into right field off Louisville left-handed reliever Michael Prosecky (2-1) to drive in Trevor Werner for the game-winning run.

Claunch drew a walk when Prosecky came out of the bullpen in the eighth inning. Therefore, he was looking for a fastball.

“In that situation, I had already faced him, so I was pretty comfortable,” Claunch said. “I’d seen every pitch he has. With him going first-pitch breaking ball (in the eighth) and hitting [Ryan Targac], I was fairly confident that he wasn’t coming back with another off-speed pitch, so I was sitting on the fastball and got one I liked.”

The hit compensated for an otherwise frustrating night at the plate for the usually heavy-hitting Aggies.

They accumulated 11 hits, drew ten walks and reached base three times via hit batters.

However, they left 17 runners on base. Ten were left in scoring position. Five times they struck out with the bases loaded.

“Just when you think they’ve taken another punch — and there’s so many teams that I’ve ever seen or been a part of — where you take that punch, and you fold. These guys just move on to the next play. They just move on to it.”

– A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle

The only bases-loaded hit registered before Claunch in the ninth was by Louisville starting pitcher Jared Poland.

In the first inning, Claunch was hit by a Poland pitch to allow Jack Moss to score.

That was the only run the Aggies managed in the first. That one-run lead was short-lived.

Louisville came back in the second with three singles, a walk and a sacrifice fly off starter Nathan Dettmer to take a 3-1 lead.

Jordan Thompson delivered with a run-scoring single to drive home Brett Minnich in the third, but Louisville managed an unearned run in the fifth to take a 4-2 lead.

Excellent relief pitching from Joseph Menefee and Jacob Palisch prevented the Cardinals from adding to that margin.

Menefee relieved Dettmer in the fifth and left Louisville’s Ben Metzinger stranded at third. He got a ground out — which was upheld by review — to get out of a sixth-inning jam. He also notched consecutive strikeouts to end the seventh inning with a Louisville runner at second base.

But A&M was still struggling at the plate until Thompson, the eight-hitter, blasted a game-tying two-run home run which cleared leaping centerfielder Levi Usher’s outstretched glove by about a foot.

“I’m not going to lie. I had to take a double-take,” Thompson said. ”I don’t think I’ve hit a ball to that part of the ballpark out. I’ve hit one off the wall occasionally in BP but never out. It was a blast to see it go out.”

Cardinal reliever Tate Kuehner originally raised his arms to celebrate what he thought was a circus catch. He then grasped his head after realizing Thompson’s blast cleared the fence.

Jamie Maury, TexAgs

Thompson’s seventh-inning, game-tying home run was his fifth round-tripper of the season.

“We expect Levi to catch everything,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. “That’s a credit to him and what we’ve seen over the last few years. If he can’t catch it, I don’t know if anybody can.”

Palisch (6-3) then entered in the eighth to work two scoreless innings to pick up the win, but it wasn’t easy.

He left two Louisville runners on base in the eighth. He got a double-play ball to end the ninth.

“We did invest a lot with Menefee and Jacob,” Schlossnagle said. “I knew if those guys executed pitches, as long as we didn’t screw something up on defense, we’d be OK.”

Then Werner drew a walk off Prosecky, Louisville’s sixth pitcher, to lead off the ninth. Austin Bost delivered a two-out single. Ryan Targac was hit by a pitch.

Then came up Claunch, whose hit brought A&M within one win of a trip to Omaha.

“Troy normally saves his best at-bats for the end of the game,” Schlossnagle said. “Nobody you would want up there more than him against Prosecky, who is certainly really, really good.

“But it’s one game. We’re glad to win it, but it’s a long way to go to advance.”

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