Tennessee faces struggling Texas A&M – Orlando Sentinel


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OMAHA, Nebraska – Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle still remembers how he felt when he watched Braden Montgomery, one of the biggest stars in college baseball, break his ankle sliding into the plate two weeks ago at the NCAA Super Regionals.

“Yes, my heart sank,” he said Friday. “At that moment, everything sank into my pants, especially because of Braden.”

The Aggies' problems were just beginning. Their No. 2 pitcher suffered a season-ending arm injury the next day, the right fielder who made a game-winning catch against the wall in the opening game of the College World Series pulled a hamstring while running between the bases earlier in the week, and their catcher and designated hitter have been battling persistent injuries for weeks.

Schlossnagle and his team had to get creative with their lineups and pitching plans, and everything they tried worked.

Now they are just two wins away from Texas A&M's first national baseball title. The Aggies (52-13) open the CWS finals on Saturday evening in the best-of-three mode against Tennessee (58-12). Both teams went 3-0 in the double-elimination bracket game.

The Volunteers are the first national No. 1 team to reach the finals since 2009 and are trying to become the first to win the championship since 1999. It would also be the Vols' first title in baseball.

Tennessee is the favorite, according to BetMGM. The Volunteers are minus 185 on the money line, meaning a bettor would have to wager $185 to win $100. The Aggies are plus 140, meaning a $100 bet would return $140.

It is the second year in a row and the third time in four years that the Finals have featured teams from the Southeastern Conference. In 15 of the last 16 years, at least one team from the SEC has been in the Finals.

Texas A&M will match Ryan Prager (9-1) against Tennessee's Chris Stamos (3-0), who served as the opener before AJ Causey (13-3) takes over at the start of the game.

The teams have not met in a regular season series since March 2023. Their only meeting this season came in the conference tournament last month, a 7-4 win by Tennessee in Hoover, Alabama.

Vols coach Tony Vitello said it's probably a good thing for both teams that the finals will be played at a neutral site.

“Your place has its own brand, its own way of doing things. And you would be remiss if you didn't say that this stadium is loud,” Vitello said, adding that his team's stadium was “absolutely crazy” during the decisive game against Evansville.

Montgomery of Texas A&M, who is expected to be a top-10 pick in Major League Baseball's amateur draft next month, had started every game in right field since transferring from Stanford after last season and had a .322 batting average with 27 home runs when he broke his right ankle in a June 8 game against Oregon.

Second starting pitcher Shane Sdao had a 5-1 record and a 2.96 ERA when he injured his left (throwing) arm in the second game of the Super Regional.

Jace LaViolette strained a hamstring while running between the bases against Kentucky on Monday. LaViolette was the player who reached up with his back against the wall to catch the ball that robbed Florida's Cade Kurland of a two-run home run in the ninth inning when the Aggies were up by one run in their CWS opener.

Designated hitter Hayden Schott is playing with a torn meniscus and All-SEC catcher Jackson Appel is “really banged up,” Schlossnagle said, although the nature of Appel's injury was not disclosed.

“I think from a team perspective, you just have to deal with it,” Schlossnagle said. “That's all you can do. You can't control it, so you're one-upping the other team. That sounds like a coach, but that's how we talk about it.”

With Montgomery out, second baseman Travis Chestnut moved to center field and LaViolette, who normally plays center, slid to right. Kaeden Kent, the son of former major leaguer Jeff Kent, has started three games at second base and freshman Jack Bell has started one.

The loss of Sdao prompted Schlossnagle to bring back Justin Lamkin as the No. 2 starter. Lamkin was the starter until May 11, then made two appearances out of the bullpen. He made two starts against Florida in the CWS, allowing no runs in eight total innings.

“The other pitchers have been prepared over and over again that this isn't just down to the three or four guys who have pitched so far,” Schlossnagle said. “It's going to take a village to get through the next two or three days.”

Anna Harden

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