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Texas A&M's Chris Cortez dominates Oregon

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS – When Texas A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle asked Chris Cortez for the ball, the hard-throwing right-hander raised his arms in triumph Saturday afternoon.

The enthusiastic crowd at Blue Bell Park rose and roared their thanks. Cortez left the mound and headed toward the home Texas A&M team, where he received a standing ovation during the first NCAA regional game against Oregon.

With 5 ⅔ innings of overwhelming, scoreless relief pitching, Cortez had just helped Texas A&M overcome a disastrous start against Oregon.

“Given the moment, it was certainly his best outing,” coach Schlossnagle said of Cortez's performance. “He pitched like that when we were behind in Florida. He really did a great job when we took the lead to continue to fill the strike zone.”

Chris Cortez dominates

On an afternoon when Texas A&M lost its best hitter to injury, Cortez stepped in after Oregon threw out the Aggies' top hitter early. The Ducks had no chance against Cortez, who earned the 10-6 victory that put Texas A&M just one win away from returning to the College World Series.

Keeping a cool head was key for Cortez. The Aggies were trailing 6-3 in the second inning when Cortez took the mound. Outfielder Braden Montgomery had just suffered a season-ending ankle injury while trying to avoid the day at home. Much seemed lost for the Aggies.

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The junior from Las Vegas kept the Aggies afloat. The sweltering heat didn't stop Cortez from putting in what was arguably the best performance of his college career. The Aggies needed an unsung hero because their ace Ryan Prager was struggling.

When ace Prager came on, the home crowd was very excited. However, the excitement quickly faded when Prager allowed six runs in 1 ⅔ innings.

'Fill up'

The Aggies relied on the Cortez native to stifle Oregon's offense. Cortez relieved Prager in the second inning with a runner on second base and two outs. Drew Smith, one of Oregon's best hitters, was at bat. Cortez struck out Smith, his first of 10 strikeouts.

“Go in and keep going,” Cortez said of his mindset entering the game. “It doesn't matter if I come in in the second, third or ninth inning, it's the same. My mindset doesn't change whether I come in early or late in the game.”

The 6'1″ sinkerballer needed 88 pitches to complete 5 ⅔ scoreless innings. He allowed just two hits and three walks. Cortez has been outstanding for the Aggies all year. He has the most wins on the club with nine.

Cortez lowered his ERA to 2.83. His 89 strikeouts are second best on the team. He has made a complete turnaround from last season.

Cortez had an ERA of over seven last season, walked 40 batters and struck out 39. The complete turnaround was aided by the coaches around him and Cortez's ability to throw strikes.

Big turnaround

Schlossnagle credits Aggies pitching coach Max Weiner and catcher Jackson Appel for helping Cortez advance this season.

“But Chris has to get through it,” Schlossnagle said. “Before, he couldn't get the ball back on the tape if he got a little off to the side. Now he can throw the ball back against left-handed and right-handed hitters. He can defend his position really well.”

“I couldn't be prouder of what he's accomplished so far. I hope they get the chance to pitch again if we can extend our season.”

Cortez's 99-mile-per-hour sinker will be needed again if the Aggies want to advance to the College World Series for the second time in three years.

Anna Harden

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