Pitching, defense shine as A&M wins its MCWS opener, 3-2, over Florida

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The Texas A&M Aggies executed a few clutch, highlight-worthy defensive plays in the last few innings to back a pitching staff that struck out 16 in a riveting 3-2 victory Saturday night over the Florida Gators at the Men’s College World Series.

In a game that started more than four hours late after a weather delay, the third-seeded Aggies scored two runs in the second inning and one in the third and made it stand up for their 50th win of the season. Florida rallied for two runs in the seventh to make it close.

But the Aggies closed the door, thanks to reliever Evan Aschenbeck and defensive gems authored by second baseman Kaeden Kent and rightfielder Jace LaViolette.

In the eighth inning, the Gators had loaded the bases with two outs when Dale Thomas poked a ball that rolled slowly out to the right side. Kent hustled in to pick it up but didn’t have time to throw over-handed or side-armed to first. Instead, he under-handed it, with the ball barely beating Thomas.

Florida asked for a review on the call, but it was upheld, ending the threat and the inning. In the ninth, more drama ensued. With one out, Michael Robertson reached on an infield single. Cade Kurland stepped up and drove a pitch high and deep to right.

LaViolette leaped and caught it as it was coming down, robbing Kurland of extra bases, if not a go-ahead two-run homer. Florida star Jac Caglianone, the next batter, worked a 3-2 count and Aschenbeck walked him to put runners at first and second.

Aschenbeck, regarded as perhaps the best reliever in the nation, immediately put Ashton Wilson on the defensive. He dropped a sharp-breaking curve into the zone for strike two. On a 1-2 count, he threw another ball way wide of the strike zone. Wilson swung and missed to end the game.

The Aggies surged into a 2-0 lead in the second inning against Gators starter Liam Peterson. Caden Sorrell led off with a single and Ali Camarillo drew a walk. Kent followed with a single of his own to load the bases.

At that point, Travis Chestnut chopped a high-bouncer to third for an RBI infield single. The play seemed to rattle Peterson, as he threw a wild pitch that allowed the second run to cross.

In the third inning, Hayden Schott led off with a walk and Sorrell, a freshman from Flower Mound Marcus, sent an RBI double soaring over the center fielder’s head.

The Gators, who scored 21 runs combined in two Super Regional wins last week, failed to score until the seventh inning. Justin Lamkin pitched the first three and Chris Cortez the next three. Both notched six strikeouts.

Cortez was charged with yielding two runs in the seventh before Aschenbeck entered to end the threat. Aschenbeck pitched the remainder of the seventh, the eighth and the ninth, yielding three hits and fanning four.


Florida 34-29
Texas A&M 50-13

Coming up

Sunday: Virginia vs. Florida State, 1 p.m., elimination game. North Carolina vs. Tennessee, 6 p.m., winners bracket.

Monday: North Carolina State vs. Florida, 1 p.m., elimination game. Kentucky vs. Texas A&M, 6 p.m., winners bracket.

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