They're so close they can almost taste it.
The Angelo State University Rams rolled to a 14-2 blowout against Texas A&M-Kingsville in the final game of the NCAA D-II South Central Regional Section I Baseball Tournament Saturday at Foster Field at 1st Community Credit Union Stadium.
ASU (48-11) will host the Super Regional at home against Colorado Mesa next weekend. Mesa won Section II of the regional tourney.
The Super Regional will be a best-of-three games series that determines which one of these teams will punch its ticket to the D-II College World Series in Cary, North Carolina on June 4-11. Times for next Friday and Saturday will likely be confirmed on Monday.
"Obviously, it was a way different day than what we played the first two games and really than we've played in in awhile," Rams head coach Kevin Brooks said. "That favors us, we always feel like. Reese (Johnson) gets a leadoff hit by pitch and we get picked off and like, 'Dadgum, that's not exactly what we wanted.'
"And then Wally (Aaron Walters) got a two-out walk there. And just being aggressive, Aaron's not the quickest dude, but I felt like we had a chance in trying to steal second and there were two outs and then Justin (Lee) gets the big hit and puts us up 1-0. I thought that was huge. And Carson (Childers) on the mound was so good and so efficient, too. He's got to go down in ASU history as if not the best, then one of the best big-game pitchers in the history of the program."
Coming off the loss against Kingsville on Friday night, the Rams returned to their normal dominant ways.
Brooks felt pretty good about things when right fielder Koby Kelton's two-out, two-run single in the fourth made it 5-0 ASU.
The Rams did commit one fielding error, but the ASU coach was very pleased with his team's defensive performance, shortstop Justin Harris and Walters in particular.
"I couldn't be more proud of the guys," Brooks said. "I expected them to respond that way because they're winners and I'm proud to be associated with them."
The Rams are trying to make it to the CWS for the second-straight year under Brooks. They enjoyed their best showing in four trips under their longtime coach by reaching the semifinals in 2021, before falling to eventual national champion Wingate.
Kingsville, which snapped the Rams' 20-game winning streak Friday night by outlasting ASU 12-11, finished the year at 33-20. It was a showdown of Lone Star Conference squads in the regional tourney and the Javelinas gave themselves a chance by splitting two games on Friday.
ASU, the visitor this time on its home turf, led 1-0 after the first inning, 3-0 after three, 5-0 after four and 10-0 after five.
With ASU's season on the line, Rams starter Carson Childers (8-1) handcuffed the Javelinas with a commanding effort on the hill.
In seven full innings, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound redshirt junior from Round Rock High School scattered seven hits and allowed just one earned run. He recorded four Ks and one walk. This is the seasoned veteran's fifth season wearing the blue and gold and his teammates and coaches have all the confidence in the world in him.
"It was great," Childers said. "I was relaxed when you're the visitors and your offense scores runs right off the bat, you can relax and let your shoulders down and breathe a little bit.
"Also, with the wind blowing straight in, I'm never afraid to throw strikes, but it's in the back of your mind and I was just filling up the zone and making them hit the ball and they did, and luckily, my defense was there most of the time."
Reliever Kyle Moseley worked the final two innings, giving up two hits and an unearned run.
Koby Kelton went 2-for-4 with a game-high four RBIs and one run scored.
Left fielder Justin Lee had another strong performance for ASU, going 4-for-6 with two RBIs and one run, and catcher Tripp Clark was 1-for-4 with two RBIs and one run.
ASU also got contributions from centerfielder Thomas Cain (2-for-4, 3 runs), second baseman Reese Johnson (0-for-3, 1 RBI, 2 runs), first baseman Aaron Walters (2-for-6, 1 RBI, 2 runs), designated hitter Jordan Williams (2-for-5, 1 run), third baseman Kamden Kelton (1-for-5, 2 runs) and Harris (1-for-3, 1 RBI, 1 run).
That's everybody in the lineup.
The Rams are very capable of hitting the long ball, as they've shown a lot recently, but they kill teams playing small ball -- bunting, stealing bases, working the count, drawing walks, etc. They made a living out of that Saturday.
"It's kind of like one of our specialties," Lee said. "We practice line-drive groundballs day in and day out, especially (for) days like today when the wind's blowing in. You're not going to get the long ball today. Go out and do those kind of things and beat the heck out of teams."
Lee had four hits, twice as many as anybody else in the game.
"I was feeling pretty good," the Rams left fielder said. "Balls were looking like beach balls. I was waiting to get my pitch and waiting for mistakes (by the pitchers) and I got them and punished them."
Shortstop Ivan Duarte drove in both of the Javelinas' runs -- an RBI single in the sixth and an RBI double in the eighth.
When the Javs got within 10-2 after eight, Kingsville fans started to think there was a sliver of hope.
But the Rams put things out of reach with a four-spot in the ninth for the final margin.
Kingsville starter Brandon Symmank (5-4) took the loss. He was relieved after just one inning when he allowed two hits and one earned run.
Two of the Javs' relievers -- Hunter Kloesel and Jackson Teer -- gave up four earned runs apiece. Robbie Spencer gave up three.
Kingsville catcher Nick Wolff went 3-for-3 with no RBIs and one run.
Right fielder Hayden Falls (2-for-4) and Duarte (2-for-3) were the only other Javs to have more than one hit.
And now ASU will get ready for a showdown with Colorado Mesa with a CWS ticket riding on it.
The Rams beat the No. 1-ranked Mavericks 5-2 at home last year at the South Central Regional.
"It's weird," Brooks said. "We haven't played each other for that long, but it's probably one of the best rivalries in D-II college baseball. They are going to be ready to go. They're going to bring in a prolific offense with some scary Pablo Sanchez-type numbers from backyard baseball and we're going to go out and try to compete."
Childers talked about the luxury of having another chance to go the CWS.
"It's amazing," the Rams pitcher said. "That's our end goal is to win the College World Series. Getting there is just another step. You can't say you expected it, but we kind of expected it with the kind of guys that we have here. They're very talented and they all work harder than anybody out there. It's just amazing to be part of this team."
They're still chasing that elusive national championship and they hope2022 is the year.
Earlier this week, Brooks was named the South Central Region Coach of the Year.
Three Rams earned first-team honors on the National College Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) All-South Central Regional Team -- starting pitcher Benjamin Elder, Walters and Lee.
Second baseman Austin Beck and starting pitcher Jake Rogers received second-team honors.
Angelo State 14, A&M-Kingsville 2
Angelo State 102 250 004--14 15 1
Kingsville 000 001 010--2 9 3
Carson Childers, Kyle Moseley (8) and Tripp Clark. Brandon Symmank, Robbie Spencer (2), Hunter Kloesel (5), Luis Martinez (5), Jackson Teer (6) and Nick Wolff. WP -- Childers (8-1). LP -- Symmank (5-4). 2B -- ASU: Koby Kelton, Jordan Williams, Tripp Clark; Kingsville: Ivan Duarte, Wolff. 3B -- ASU: Lee. Records -- Angelo State is 48-11, Kingsville finished 33-20.
This article originally appeared on San Angelo Standard-Times: Angelo State baseball team tops Kingsville, advances to Super Regional