Kent-led Texas A&M beats No. 1 Tennessee, moves to within one win of a national championship

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

With his famous father watching from the grandstands Saturday night, Kaeden Kent kept his NCAA playoff hot streak alive and helped lift the third-seeded Texas A&M Aggies to within one victory of a national championship.

The son of former Major League Baseball standout Jeff Kent homered and drove in four runs, leading the Aggies to a 9-5 victory over the top-seeded Tennessee Volunteers in the opener of the best-of-three title round at the Men’s College World Series.

The Aggies hit well from the outset in front of a packed house in Omaha, Neb., building leads that grew to 7-1 in the middle of the third and to 9-2 in the middle of the seventh.

Undeterred, the Volunteers kept their poise and made it interesting. Rallying against Texas A&M relievers Josh Stewart and Brad Rudis, the Vols scored three times in the seventh to trim the Aggies’ lead to four.

First, Dylan Dreiling hammered a pitch from Stewart for a two-run homer. Stewart had pitched well to that point, but he would be lifted for Rudis, who immediately gave up a long solo homer to Hunter Ensly. When Ensly’s ball landed several rows deep in the left-field pavilion, Tennessee was back in the game, trailing 9-5.

A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle elected to bring in bullpen ace Evan Aschenbeck, who struck out the only two batters he faced in the seventh to prevent further damage.

Aschenbeck finished the game without allowing a run, escaping a one-out, first-and-third situation in the ninth to keep the Aggies undefeated at 9-0 in the NCAA tournament and 4-0 in the MCWS. The Aggies can clinch their first national title in baseball if they can win again Sunday night. A third game would be played on Monday, if necessary.

“I thought we played really well for the most part,” A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “We got a lot of timely hits. Had some really good at bats against some really good pitchers. Tennessee’s got a great pitching staff. They’re a very diverse pitching staff.

“I thought (A&M starter Ryan) Prager battled through some things and (reliever Josh Stewart) was awesome. Evan was Evan. And Kaeden just continues to play outstanding in the back half of the season. It’s one win. Can’t make it anything more than that.”

Entering their fourth game in the MCWS tournament that started on June 13 at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, the Aggies had not trailed on the scoreboard in any of their previous three outings. Once again, they got the early jump, this time against Vols pitchers Chris Stamos and AJ Causey with a two-run first inning.

Gavin Grahovac opened the game with an opposite-field homer to right. It was his 23rd of the season. Jackson Appel followed with a one-out double down the left field line. A fielding error by shortstop Dean Curley compounded Tennessee’s problems, prompting the Vols to replace Stamos with Causey. After Ted Burton struck out, freshman Caden Sorrell drilled an RBI single up the middle.

In retaliation, the Vols scored one run in the bottom of the second off Aggies starter Ryan Prager but failed to capitalize on a few choice opportunities. Consequently, A&M came to bat in the top of the third, leading 2-1. The Aggies immediately took advantage, scoring five runs on four hits and an infield error. Caden Sorrell, Hayden Schott and Kent contributed with run-scoring singles.

Sorrell and Schott drove in one run apiece while Kent’s two-run single made it a 7-1 ballgame.

After the Vols added a run in the bottom of the third to make it 7-2, their prolific offense went into a lull. Prager, a lefty, worked another inning and gave way to Stewart, a righty, who started to frustrate Tennessee hitters with sliders and sweepers. All told, A&M pitching may have won the game from the fourth through the sixth, keeping Tennessee off the scoreboard in that span.

In the top of the seventh, Kent electrified A&M fans with a long homer to right field. For Kent, who replaced injured star Braden Montgomery in the lineup in the Oregon series, it was his third hit of the night and his fourth RBI. With the outburst, the sophomore from Lake Travis High School in Austin hiked his productivity in the NCAA playoffs to 13 hits and 14 RBI in only seven games.

Kent, a sophomore from Lake Travis High School in Austin, said he thinks his surge can be traced to the support that he gets from teammates and members of his family.

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

In regard to the pitch he hit for the home run, he said the pitcher hung a slider, “and I was able to get it.”

Once again, the Aggies won a game with youthful talent making significant contributions. From Kent. From Grahovac, a freshman from Orange, Calif. From Sorrell, another freshman, from Highland Village and Flower Mound Marcus High School.

“Even though they’re young,” Kent said, “I think we’re past the young phase. Gavin Grahovac is so mature. So is Sorrell. They’ve had so much experience (and) they’re good baseball players.”

Kent considers his teammates to be smart players who put in the work to prepare themselves in between games.

“Baseball is a frustrating game,” he said. “So, the consistency and the time that you put in is not always shown out on the field when you play. The countless hours in the cages sometimes turns into a 0-for-4 when you go out on Tuesday. But, it’s just the repetition, man. You’re stacking days on days. It has a compound effect, and you just got to keep pushing through it.”


Texas A&M

Overall 53-13
In the NCAA tournament 9-0
In the MCWS 4-0


Overall 58-13
In the NCAA tournament 8-2
In the MCWS 3-1

Coming up

MCWS title series continues with Game 2 on Sunday at 1 p.m. A Game 3 would be played on Monday if necessary.

Aggies keep winning in the playoffs despite ‘losing players left and right’

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

One win away from the finals in the Men’s College World Series, Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle is clearly enjoying the ride. And, why not? His team has won seven straight in the NCAA baseball tournament, including a 2-0 start in the MCWS.

At the same time, questions loom. Will slugging outfielder Jace LaViolette be ready to play on Wednesday? If not, how can the coach be expected to win a national title if he’s missing both LaViolette and Braden Montgomery in the most important game of the season?

Moreover, what will he do without the services of starting pitcher Shane Sdao, who like Montgomery suffered a season-ending injury in the Super Regional round? All serious questions that will force Schlossnagle to make some big decisions over the next 36 hours.

In his postgame news conference Monday, Schlossnagle said LaViolette “tweaked” a hamstring in third-seeded A&M’s 5-1 victory over No. 2 Kentucky. He did it apparently in the sixth inning when the Aggies scored five runs.

So, what is his status for Wednesday?

“Thankfully we don’t play (Tuesday),” Schlossnagle told reporters. “So we got 48 hours to see if we can get him functional to do something on the field. Last two weeks (we’ve) been losing players left and right. Gives other guys opportunities. Hopefully it’ll make a good story.”

The loss of Sdao to injury last week against Oregon could become a major issue should the Aggies falter and lose Wednesday’s game. If they lose, they’d need to play again Thursday for the right to move into the title series.

“When you’re down a pitcher like Sdao, that’s a big hole to fill for any team,” the coach said. “At least, for our team. The fact that we get an extra day’s rest and hopefully just have to win one (is important).”

Just when he mentioned his fortuitous position in the bracket, Schlossnagle recalled an experience that he had at another school, a memory that apparently still haunts him. Eight years ago, his TCU Horned Frogs went into the CWS semifinals with a 2-0 record and failed to reach the finals.

As it turned out, Coastal Carolina won in the losers bracket and then knocked off TCU twice in the semifinals en route to winning the MCWS title, a footnote in history that should give hope to both Kentucky and Florida, who play Tuesday night for the right to meet A&M again on Wednesday.

“In 2016 we had to win one game and Coastal Carolina had to win three, and they did,” Schlossnagle said. “So, we’ve won a couple of ballgames, but we’re not where we want to be yet.”

One of the keys to A&M’s success is, obviously, talented players who aren’t playing at the moment and staying ready just in case. Kaeden Kent is one of those players. He wasn’t in the lineup at the start of the NCAA tournament but now is playing a major role.

“It’s amazing,” Kent said. “Any time you can play playoff baseball, it’s amazing. The fans are crazy, especially at Olsen Field. And my teammates, our teammates, are ultra-supportive of everybody. We have each other’s backs, and we play for each other.

“Like (pitcher) Ryan (Prager) said earlier, we have full trust in everybody in that dugout. So it’s amazing when a team can come together like we are and enjoy being around each other so much where we can win ball games, and it’s super fun to play.”

Another element of the Aggies’ run to the brink of their first championship round appearance is resilience. Sometimes, players on other teams just get hot. Sometimes, in the case of the Oregon Ducks last week, they get hot and make a good pitcher like Prager look bad.

The Ducks hammered Prager for six runs in just one and two thirds innings in the opener of the best-of-three Bryan-College Station Super Regional. On Monday night, Prager had a chance to make amends, and he did.

He carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning and finished with 6 and 2/3 innings scoreless, allowing only two hits. A strong wind blowing into hitters’ faces aided his cause, but at the same time, he kept throwing strikes and forced the Wildcats to swing early in counts.

“After last week, as soon as I came out (of the game), there was some frustration,” Prager said. “(But) once we made the last out (in the series), all of that went away. We just won an opportunity to come to Omaha. I thought that went away pretty quick.

“But the first couple of days after, there was some thinking. Maybe a little bit of over thinking. But, truly coming back to neutral and understanding what I’ve done all year has led to some success and nothing really needs to change. There doesn’t need to be a drastic change.”

Did the Aggies catch a break when they showed up Monday afternoon with the wind blowing in? Sure they did. They’ll acknowledge it and they’ll take it. Including a 3-2 victory over Florida on Saturday, A&M pitching has now allowed only three runs in two games in Omaha.

Prager did his part, going deep into the game and minimizing the role that the bullpen would need to play to finish off the victory.

“First two games we’ve been here, that’s about how we drew it up,” Schlossnagle said. “Glad to see him get a little bit of a cushion. Also glad to see him not to have to go much further than he did. Because if we’re going to have a chance to win this thing, he’s going to have to pitch again on much shorter rest.

“So, he did a great job. We played good defense behind him. Any time the wind’s blowing like it was, it gives any pitcher more confidence to throw the ball in the strike zone.”

Coming up

Tuesday: Florida State v North Carolina, 1 p.m.; Kentucky v Florida, 6 p.m. (both elimination games)
Wednesday: Tennessee v Florida State or North Carolina, 1 p.m.; Texas A&M v Kentucky or Florida, 6 p.m., (semifinals)