Sunday, June 19, 2011

A&M coach relies on pitching to key trek to Omaha

COLLEGE STATION ? Plenty of college pitchers lean on their fastball to try and get past hitters. Texas A&M's Ross Stripling, owner of a 14-2 record, leans the other way.

"I wouldn't be where I am today," said Stripling, who will start the Aggies' first game of the College World Series, "without my changeup."

The junior Stripling, who pitched only one season at Southlake Carroll, credits A&M coach Rob Childress for teaching him the art of the off-speed offering.

"He taught me how to grip it, and told me to throw the heck out of it," Stripling said Wednesday prior to A&M's practice at Olsen Field. "You've got to throw it like a fastball and if you get good at it, the ball will start moving."

The Aggies are packing their bags today for Omaha, Neb., and the off-speed-teaching guru largely responsible for their first trip to the CWS in a dozen years was hired a half-dozen years ago this month.

"It took six years," Childress, 42, said Wednesday, "but I'm glad we're going to Omaha."

'05 CWS run opens doors

In 2005, Childress was at the CWS as Nebraska's rising-star pitching coach.

"We had won the Big 12 regular season, the Big 12 tournament, a regional and super regional," Childress said. "We felt like we had a team built to win a national championship."

The Cornhuskers, second nationally with a 2.62 ERA in 2005, finished the CWS 1-2, and the next thing he knew the Gilmer native was headed to his home state.

"It was a whirlwind," Childress said of his last experience as a coach in Omaha. "I hadn't even unpacked my bags when we got home to Lincoln, and the phone rang. Thirty-six hours later we were on a plane to College Station."

It helped that his wife Amanda is an Aggie.

"I think she accepted the job before I did," Childress said, smiling.

Starting 6 p.m. Sunday, the Aggies will face a South Carolina squad coached by one of the finalists for the A&M job in '05, Ray Tanner. He and Georgia Tech's Danny Hall both received sweeter deals at their respective schools following A&M's interest. Last year, the Gamecocks won their first national title. Six years ago, Texas coach Augie Garrido cautioned A&M fans to let the new guy install his system.

"The problem for Aggies is that they're going to have to be satisfied and patient for the first four or five years," Garrido said then.

Now, for the first time since 1993, rivals A&M and UT are both in the CWS. The programs shared the Big 12 regular-season title, and the Aggies won the Big 12 tournament. A&M and UT are in separate brackets and could meet in the CWS championship series.

"But if you look that far ahead," Childress cautioned, "you're going to find yourselves having (season-ending) individual meetings real quick."

Not surprisingly, the Aggies' strength under Childress has been pitching. A&M ranks 13th nationally in ERA (2.88), and won a home regional and road super regional at Florida State minus ace John Stilson, who was diagnosed with a torn labrum just prior to the NCAA tournament.

Dynamic duo carries load

In his absence, rangy righthanders Michael Wacha and Stripling have more than picked up the slack down the stretch. The sophomore Wacha has allowed 6 earned runs over his last 34 innings, and Stripling has allowed 15 earned runs over his last 712?3 innings.

"Coach taught me how to build my strength, and to use all of my body in pitching, with no wasted effort," Wacha said.

Following the conference titles and even the regional title this season, Childress said the Aggies "hadn't done anything yet." Now?

"It's the greatest feeling in the world, as a coach or a player, to get to Omaha," he said. "I told our players it's something that will bind them together for a lifetime. But while we're going up there, we're going up to win."


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