The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Winning 9 to 5: A&M beats Tennessee in Game 1 of College World Series finals

Aggies are one win away from program’s first national title
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Photo by Hannah Harrison
Texas A&M infielder Kaeden Kent (3) celebrates a home run during Texas A&M’s game against Tennessee at the NCAA Men’s College World Series finals at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday, June 22, 2024. (Hannah Harrison/The Battalion)

While Texas A&M baseball had never appeared in the College World Series finals before Saturday, the Aggies played as if they were seasoned veterans in the national championship series versus Tennessee.

It took just one batter for A&M to position itself one win away from immortality, as freshman 3B Gavin Grahovac, having fallen behind in the count 0-2 to graduate LHP Chris Stamos, turned on the third pitch of the game and sent it 372 feet over the right field wall at Omaha’s Charles Schwab Field.

The Aggies turned their early lead into a 9-5 victory over the Volunteers, with just one win separating A&M from the program’s first national title. It never trailed against one of the game’s most potent lineups as the Aggies fell back on their fundamentals on college baseball’s biggest stage.

A&M banged out 13 hits against six Tennessee pitchers while benefiting from three errors gifted by the Volunteers. Redshirt sophomore LHP Ryan Prager, in potentially his final appearance of the season, limited Tennessee to two runs in the first four innings while senior LHP Evan Aschenbeck kept it off the board in the final 2 ⅔ frames.

The story of the game, though, lay in the Aggies’ timely hitting. A&M took advantage of its opportunities by hitting at a .333 clip with runners in scoring position, compared to a .154 rate by Tennessee. The Aggies banged out hits with a .474 average with runners on, next to the Volunteers batting .316 in such situations.

“Mental skills are something we practice,” Schlossnagle said. “We invest a lot of time, effort and money in mental skills. Mental skills can be practiced just like physical skills can be practiced. The very first thing we do when we take our hitters to the batting cage the first day of the fall is talk about their routine and the ability to handle moments and the ability to play the game pitch to pitch.”

There aren’t many better instances of handling the moment than sophomore 2B Kaeden Kent, an off and on starter for much of the season who was never a regular fixture in the lineup. When junior RF Braden Montgomery went down in the first inning of A&M’s Super Regional matchup with Oregon on June 8, Kent saw his opportunity.

Since that moment, he’s 12-for-25 with 14 runs batted in, including a 3-for-5 showing versus Tennessee that saw him knock in four runs behind a two-run single in a five-run third inning and a two-run homer in the seventh. The runs proved to be valuable as they padded a 5-2 lead before the Volunteers scored three runs in the seventh.

“I think it’s attributed to the support that I get,” Kent said. “The support that I get and the people that believe in me. The people that have my back and I can count on. Like my parents or my brother, I can look to the stands and they can pound their chest like, ‘You got this.’ That puts a lot of relaxation on my mind to ease down.”

Kent’s insurance runs supplemented an advantage built in the first inning off the bats of the Aggies’ resident true freshmen in Grahovac and LF Caden Sorrell. The former’s long ball set the tone from the get-go before Sorrell added an RBI single to plate senior C Jackson Appel for an unearned run.

“Even though they’re young, I think we’re passed the ‘young’ phase,” Kent said. “Gavin Grahovac is so mature, so is Sorrell. They’ve had so much experience. They’re good baseball players and their brain works super well. Their ability to come out here and play is amazing.”

After Tennessee cut A&M’s 2-0 lead in half in the second with freshman SS Dean Curley’s RBI single, the Aggies answered with their greatest offensive output of the night in the top of the third. Graduate DH Hayden Schott kicked off the five-piece with an RBI single, followed by Sorrell’s second run-scoring single through three frames.

Junior SS Ali Camarillo grabbed the baton in sending a bouncer to third base, but junior 3B Billy Amick bounced his throw past junior 1B Blake Burke to bring home a run. With two runners in scoring position, Kent continued the parade by depositing a two-run single into center field.

Redshirt junior DH Hunter Ensley’s RBI single closed the gap for the Volunteers to 7-2 but, for the second inning in a row, Prager stranded two runners on base in a three-single frame. He had no walks over his four innings, with just two of the five runners he allowed in scoring position crossing home plate.

“I thought he was great,” Schlossnagle said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be his very best stuff throwing on short rest, but [pitching coach] Max [Weiner] has done such an unbelievable job with our pitching staff in getting them to believe in throwing the ball in the strike zone. Especially against Tennessee, there’s going to be some damage, but you’ve got to limit damage by not giving up free bases.”

Following Camarillo’s leadoff walk in the seventh, Kent took advantage of the free base in banging sophomore LHP Andrew Behnke’s slider into the Aggies’ right-field bullpen. As A&M grabbed a 9-2 edge, the caravan of fans clad in maroon and white went into a frenzy with a victory feeling more and more secure.

“Rounding the bases, I was able to take it in,” Kent said. “The bullpen was going crazy. The fans are so loud. These fans are amazing, man. I love playing in front of these fans. They help us out so much, and so much credit to them.”

Tennessee, though, gave a reminder that baseball games last nine innings. In the bottom of the frame, sophomore LF Dylan Dreiling followed a walk with a big fly to right field, with sophomore RF Jace LaViolette unable to put himself in position to make the grab. One batter later, Ensley sent a solo shot to left field on junior RHP Brad Rudis’ second pitch.

Then, in the words of Schlossnagle, “Evan was Evan.” Aschenbeck got out of the inning by punching out the next two batters before holding the Volunteers to just two hits with seven of his eight outs coming via the strikeout. The NCBWA Stopper of the Year showed the form he has all season in putting a bow on the monumental win with two punchouts to end it.

“The mindset was just [to] win,” Aschenbeck said. “Doing anything I can to help this team win, and, at the end of the day, that’s what the whole postseason is about, is doing things and doing my best ability to give my team the best chance to win.”

Now, 66 games and 53 victories into the season, A&M is in need of just one more win to bring a championship back home to Aggieland, the first in a major men’s sport since football’s 1939 crown. Regardless of the significance of the moment, Sunday’s 1 p.m. matchup won’t feel any different in the Aggies’ dugout. It’ll just be “opening day.”

“We all know what’s at stake,” Schlossnagle said. “There’s no Lombardi speech. We just try to keep them as loose as we can. We’ll hit in the cages and get our ground balls tomorrow and play. I know it sounds coachy, but if you start thinking about things other than that, Tennessee’s gonna blow you out of this ballpark. … We’ll just do what we do. It’s all we can do.”

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About the Contributors
Luke White
Luke White, Sports Editor
Luke White is a senior telecommunication media studies major and sport management minor from Round Rock, Texas. He has served as head sports editor since May 2023.
Hannah Harrison
Hannah Harrison, Photographer
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