COLLEGE STATION – – The clock strikes 3:30 am as Jim Schlossnagle’s head pops up from his pillow. An alarm hasn’t gone off and there’s hours before the sun will rise, but he can’t sleep.
It’s a cool June morning, but Schlossnagle’s face is dripping in sweat, the soppy sheets leaving a mark on his bed inside Texas A&M’s Hotel and Conference center.
Schlossnagle has too much on his mind to rest.
Perhaps it’s the near 200-mile move southeast his family is set to make in the coming days. Maybe it’s about finding a way to build a staff. Schlossnagle also will have to sell his message to current players on the roster and hope they stick around for another season. The same goes for players looking for a second chance in the transfer portal.
In retrospect, Schlossnagle knows what’s keeping him awake. After 18 years, multiple conference titles and five College World Series appearances with TCU, he was ready for a new challenge. A&M athletic director Ross Bjork came calling and the timing was right for a change.
Schlossnagle has always been impatient. Even at his introductory Aggies press conference, the coach didn’t hesitate to map out near-unfathomable goals for a program that was coming off a 9-21 conference record.
“I want to be in Omaha next season,” Schlossnagle said on June 10 at Kyle Field’s Hall of Champions. “But there’s a lot of work to be done. I know Aggieland and the Aggie Nation, I’m sure they’re going to want that this year and so do I.”
To some, Schlossnagle’s coaching style might be unorthodox and against-the-grain. But with a chance to make his Year 1 goal a reality, he wasn’t willing to take any risk Saturday afternoon in the bottom of the ninth inning with one of college baseball’s best hitters on deck.
Just 366 days after Schlossnagle set a new standard for the program, the goal was achieved. A&M baseball is back to its glory days. It’s also heading back to the College World Series for the first time since 2017 after sweeping Louisville in 4-3 fashion Saturday.
In front of a combined 13,000-plus fans in two days, A&M punched its ticket to the big dance of the midwest.
The Aggies did it their way: Schloss’ way. The nation watched on as the team that lost a series to Ivy League Penn in February became the first program to prep for a national title.
“To be where we were three or four months ago, to sit in here and get ready to hop on a plane to go to Omaha, I’m super-proud of them,” Schlossnagle said. “We’re not finished and now we need to go get some rest and get ready to play some more baseball.”
Calling on coaches, talking to transfers
The first thing Schlossnagle needed to do before talking to players on their roles with the club was to build a coaching staff. Reaching into his Rolodex of contacts, he called pitching coach Nate Yeskie from Arizona. He reached out to LSU’s Nolan Cain to help in recruiting. Schlossnagle also reached out to hitting coach Michael Earley from Arizona State.
Next came building the lineup. Standouts like infielders Trevor Werner and Ryan Targac weren’t leaving. Neither was outfielder Jordan Thompson. Still, A&M was in a hole with the departure of two of its best hitters in Will Frizzell and Hunter Coleman.
Schlossnagle hits the transfer portal to fill the gaps. He added a shortstop in Kole Kaler (Hawaii) and fortified first base with Jack Moss (Arizona State). He also added outfielder Dylan Rock, who was coming off a career season at UTSA.
On the mound, Micah Dallas (Texas Tech) was set to upgrade the rotation while Jacob Palish (Stanford) would control games from the bullpen. The Aggies also added catcher Troy Claunch from Oregon State. Much like Palish, Claunch has been to the promised land of TD Ameritrade Park, winning a title with the Beavers in 2018.
He was voted on as captain by his teammates and bestowed the No. 12 in honor of The 12th Man tradition.
“He’s been the core of this thing,” Schlossnagle said of his catcher. “He calms the storm on both offense and defense and he’s a super-elite player. We’re so glad he’s an Aggie.”
Even with the transfers and high-profile coaching staff, observers weren’t buying. In the initial preseason ranking, the Aggies were projected to finish dead last in the SEC West and 13th in the conference.
Houston highlights a turnaround
As the bus rolled into the parking lot from downtown Houston in early March, Schlossnagle went to his office and slammed the door behind him. He pouted for a bit, wondering when the spark would arrive, when the consistency would come. The Aggies had just picked up their first series win over Santa Clara, only to folllow up by being shutdown by Houston 8-2.
A frustrated Schlossnagle took a deep breath and mulled over the loss. The initial thought: “I can’t let these boys down,” referring to those who left other programs to join his. They didn’t sign up for losing baseball and neither did Schlossnagle.
Something changed after that. The approach to games were different. So was the atmosphere in the clubhouse among players. Eventually, it transitioned to the scoreboard.
The Aggies picked up a monumental series win over LSU on the road. After losing back-to-back series to Auburn and Alabama, that became a thing of the past. A&M never lost its footing, winning the next eight series, including big-time victories over then-No. 10 Georgia, No. 3 Arkansas and defending national champ Mississippi State.
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“We knew we had special kids,” Schlossnagle said. “We knew that by the end of the fall. I knew that guys who were returning players were super-talented and they wanted to win. I knew they were pretty much willing to give up themselves for the opportunity to win.”
A&M would win the SEC West and be one of 16 host cities for the tournament. The Aggies found a way to defeat Oral Roberts and Louisiana before taking on Schlossnagle’s former employer in TCU. A seven-run ninth inning gave A&M the lead and an eventual 15-9 win.
Werner said the Aggies had a game plan before the start of the tournament, hoping to go on “one-game win streaks” rather than looking deep into the future.
Said Targac: “It’s about trusting what we do and not looking too far ahead. We’ve played this game one pitch at a time.”
The finished product of Schlossnagle’s plan was on display for two days at Blue Bell Park against the Cardinals. Much like the season itself, the lows came early and fans waited for the high points late.
But this was the Aggie baseball that rocked Olsen Field all year. The culmination of a season’s work hit its stride Friday evening in the seventh inning when Thompson smacked a two-run home run over the left-centerfield wall to tie the game at 4-4.
Those who were brought here from elsewhere factored into the sweep as well. Kaler turned a quick double play on Friday night to keep the score tied in the ninth to give A&M a chance. Palish worked out of trouble starting in the eighth, allowing just two hits through two innings.
Living up to the nickname “Clutch Claunch,” the Aggies catcher played the hero role with a game-winning single to give A&M the 5-4 victory. A day later, he’d deliver a strike down to second base, catching Cardinals pinch-runner Chris Seng stealing in the eighth to keep Louisville out of scoring position.
Rock put enough oomph on a fastball in the seventh inning to break a 3-3 tie with a sacrifice fly. Moss, who hit .541 in both the rounds of the tournament, continued to shine at the plate, going 3 for 6 with a double and a run. Dallas struggled with his fastball command, but did enough to limit Louisville’s potent offense in 4 2/3 innings.
Schlossnagle had trusted freshman Brad Rudis to get the saves in the College Station Regional, but pressure was on with a runner at first. We have 3-2 count, he went back Palish to get the punch out and shut things down. He’d get the strikeout on Ben Metzinger and then retired Cardinals’ top hitter Dalton Rushing to fly out deep to centerfield.
“The pitch that Jacob is most comfortable throwing in just about any count is his slider, his breaking ball,” Schlossnagle said. “I just wanted to go right to that and change the look and see what happened.”
Six pitches later, Palish got catcher Jack Payton to strike out and Blue Bell erupted. The third base dugout engulfed the mound as a dog pile formed. Fans screamed “Omaha! Omaha!” while Schlossnagle slapped the A&M emblem on an oversized ticket stub.
“Coming into (the season), we knew the pieces were there,” Werner said. “We just needed somebody to bring everybody together.”
A finished product
Louisville coach Dan McDonnell has known Schlossnagle for decades. The two crossed paths while Schlossnagle was on staff at Tulane and McDonnell was coaching at The Citadel.
McDonnell knew entering the week what the Aggies were capable of. In large part, that’s due to the impact Schlossnagle has made at every stop. He did it at UNLV during the early 2000s. It was on display at TCU for nearly two decades as well.
“You guys have something special here,” McDonnell said of the Aggies. “This is my first time here in 30 years, and this is special, this is neat. This fires me up, because this is what we’re trying to do.”
Schlossnagle still talks about those sleepless nights from last June. He’s sweating, but it’s likely due to the heat reaching triple-digits over the past month rather than his nerves getting the best of him.
Getting to Omaha was the goal for A&M. Now comes the hard part: winning. The Aggies are 0-6 since 1993 in their three appearances at the College World Series.
Betting against Schlossnagle’s Aggies could be a terrible decision as of late. Those in Aggieland know it to be true. As the plane boards for Nebraska, Schlossnagle likely is prepping for another round of restless sleep and early morning unplanned wake up calls.
He’ll take it though it if leads to a national title. July was meant for snoozing anyway.
Said Schlossnagle: “(Hall of Fame football) coach John Robinson told one time, ‘You need to slow down.” I know we had a great season, but I don’t want to slow down. I want to win a national title and do it sooner rather than later.”
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