HOUSTON -- With a super regional berth at stake, Texas A&M's fate rested on the right arm of Cason Sherrod.
With the potential tying and winning runs on base and the host Houston Cougars crawling back from a four-run deficit on Monday, it was up to Sherrod, a junior righthanded reliever for the Aggies, to fend off the threat. With a boisterous capacity crowd on its feet and one of the Cougars' best hitters -- catcher Connor Wong -- at the plate, it was as pressure-packed as it gets in college baseball. Sherrod, as he did two days prior, came in and delivered exactly what the Aggies needed: a strikeout to send Texas A&M to the next round.
First-time super regional participants Davidson -- the No. 4 regional seed the Aggies will host beginning Friday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and the WatchESPN App) -- and Sam Houston State are among college baseball's underdog stories this postseason, but the Aggies have one of their own, too, in Sherrod.
Sherrod has had to deal with more than just the usual challenges that accompany relievers in late-game situations. The 20-year-old has a hearing deficit that leaves him able to hear roughly half of what most people do. The condition was caused by permanent nerve damage as a result of being born two months premature. Sherrod said he has "53 percent hearing loss in both ears."
His parents discovered the condition when he was roughly 3 years old and "sitting in the living room watching TV with the volume all the way up and couldn't even hear it."
Currently, Sherrod virtually hears it all. He wears digital hearing aids that he says make a significant difference. He has worn them since high school, but that wasn't always the case. As a child, he battled insecurity from wearing them and at times felt he struggled for acceptance.
"Once I got around people who didn't know about my disability and they started to ask a lot of questions -- 'Oh what are those?'" Sherrod recalled. "They were very noticeable. I had to have these big molds put in, and me being a little kid, they were colorful, so you could see them. I started being insecure about it, then I ended up damaging one. I decided to give it up and decided to not wear hearing aids."
Sherrod estimates that from middle school to his early high school years, he didn't wear hearing aids. "He got by with sitting in front of the class, reading lips," said Slade Sherrod, Cason's father. "He'd wear hearing aids during school, and then he would not wear them at home, and he got to where he just wouldn't wear them."
Said Cason Sherrod: "It made me feel different."
In his sophomore year at W.T. White High School in Dallas, Sherrod finally got back to wearing his hearing aids. With the help of the Callier Center for Communication Disorders, Sherrod got a pair of digital hearing aids that were much smaller and less visible. Immediately, they made a huge difference.
"I remember the first thing I heard was the birds chirp," Sherrod said. "I thought that was the coolest thing ever."
It was around that time that he began focusing on baseball, after only starting to play as a high school freshman. He was better able to communicate with teammates and coaches.
His social life improved, too. Before he got the new hearing aids, Sherrod preferred not to go out, his father said, because if there was music playing in the car or at a party, Cason wouldn't be able to hear people speaking to him, making for awkward situations.
"[The digital hearing aids] changed everything," Slade said.
As his high school career wore on, Cason became more comfortable on the mound and began attracting attention from major universities. He chose the Aggies over a host of power-conference schools.
After being lightly used in his first two seasons (he pitched a combined 19 innings in his freshman and sophomore seasons), Sherrod has emerged as a key member of Texas A&M's bullpen. At 4-1 with a 2.85 ERA in 28 appearances, he has been a reliable arm for the maroon and white.
"Very confident," Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said of the reliever. "Very aggressive. He's going to be the aggressor."
With a low- to mid-90s fastball and a nasty slider that had Wong swinging and missing in the game-deciding at-bat on Monday, Sherrod was able to get the Aggies out of key jams in the Houston Regional. In addition to helping stave off the Cougars' last-inning comeback attempt, he helped stall a hot-hitting Iowa squad on Saturday, entering the game with a runner on base and national home run leader Jake Adams at the plate. Sherrod promptly struck out Adams and the next two batters in succession to end the inning.
His emergence is a result of his work ethic.
"He's the hardest worker on our team," said starting pitcher Corbin Martin, Sherrod's friend and roommate. "He's always working out and finding ways to get better. He knew it was going to be a process, and he was willing to do whatever it took. Just to watch him grow and become the pitcher he can be is awesome."
He hasn't only had an on-field impact in Aggieland; he has contributed off the field too. He spends time with students locally at the Brazos Valley Regional School for the Deaf and volunteered at their annual picnic and field day this year. Last month he was named to the SEC's All-Community Service team for his efforts.
"He's such an inspirational kid," said Mike Taylor, a pitching coach who has worked with Sherrod since high school.
Pro baseball could be around the corner, with the major league draft next week. Playing professionally is a dream for Sherrod, one that could be realized soon.
First, he and the Aggies have some unfinished business. They're hoping they can return to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, for the first time since 2011. If Sherrod has the ball in his hands this weekend, chances are he'll enter as fearlessly as he did in the regional.
"His confidence is at a point right now where it's, 'Don't tell me I can't, because I will,'" Slade said. "That's been his road growing up. He's had to deal with issues with his hearing. He has a brother that's special needs. ... He's dealt with some issues and barriers that he has overcome. But you know what? He's never complained about it or felt sorry for himself. I think he's a phenomenal kid."