Florida, Clemson Deliver Drama, Controversy, Highlighting Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Super Regional Action


Image credit: (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

Sunday’s super regional games delivered some high drama and thrilling baseball. Seven of the eight spots in the College World Series have been filled, leaving just one Game 3 to play Monday.

Here are eight takeaways from Sunday’s action.

1. The game of the day, weekend and, quite possibly, tournament happened in Clemson. It was full of twists and turns, drama and controversy and, most importantly, excellent baseball. I want to start with that and Florida’s 11-10 walk-off win in 13 innings. If you’re more interested in the umpiring controversies, read on. But let’s start on the field.

The Gators are headed to Omaha after a roller coaster of a season. So, perhaps it’s only fitting that they won a roller coaster of a game to get them there.

Things started out well for Florida, as it took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a home run from Jac Caglianone. While things swung back and forth for a while, it held a 7-4 lead going into the eighth and a 9-6 lead going into the ninth.

But that proved not to be enough thanks to Clemson center fielder Cam Cannarella. He’s going to be one of the top picks of the 2025 draft and he showed why Sunday with the game on the line. He drilled a three-run homer in the top of the ninth to tie the game. Then, in the 10th, he did his best Willie Mays impression, securing a fly ball at the wall with his back to the plate. It wasn’t quite a basket catch because he didn’t catch it clean, but he caught it all the same, and saved what would have been a walk-off hit from Ashton Wilson.

Clemson then took the lead in the top of the 13th inning on a solo home run from Alden Mathes. Florida wasn’t done yet, however. Luke Heyman and Tyler Shelnut opened the bottom of the inning with singles and, after a sacrifice, Brody Donay was intinonally walked to load the bases. Michael Robertson ripped a ball into the gap to score two runs and send Florida to Omaha.

Despite all those punches and momentum swings, Florida never broke. Righthander Brandon Neely, the team’s bullpen ace, wasn’t perfect Sunday – he gave up the home run to Cannarella – but he got through four innings just a day after he threw three innings to close out Game 1. Wilson, who only started playing regularly on the final weekend of the regular season, went 2-for-6 with a home run. Robertson, who came to Florida as a highly regarded recruit but has hit just .242 for his career, played hero.

It was just that kind of day for Florida, which is suddenly red hot. The Gators have won eight of their last 10 games and now that they’re in Omaha after being one of the last teams in the NCAA Tournament field, I’m sure a lot is going to be made of what their success means. I don’t want to look for deeper meaning here. Florida has always been a good team (it won series against Texas A&M, Mississippi State, LSU and Georgia), it just was inconsistent. It’s a better team today than it was in April and now it’s headed back to Omaha, where it has what it takes to win.

2. Unfortunately, the game also included a few umpiring controversies. The game started with high tensions, which was hardly surprising for an elimination game between teams full of emotional, passionate players.

That flared in the second inning when a squibber up the first base line led to a collision between Jac Caglianone, who fielded the ball and stepped into the line, and Nolan Nawrocki, who had no choice but to run into Caglianone. The two shoved each other and had some words, but first base umpire Billy Van Raaphorst quickly stepped between them. Players from both teams converged on the skirmish, but they were kept apart, and the players returned to their dugouts. A flash point, a time for both dugouts to be warned, but ultimately a moment to move on from, right?

Wrong. A lengthy delay followed as the umpires consulted video review to determine if any players left their positions, which is prohibited. Some players had, of course, left their positions. But just one was ejected – Clemson’s Jack Crighton, who had been on base. The dustup happened in front of the Clemson dugout, where he had to go because it was the third out of the inning. He did get right in the thick of the action, but it would be hard to argue he was the only player to have violated the letter of the law.

This was the second time this season that rule came into play in a controversial way. A game between Mississippi State and Georgia in April also had a similar situation lead to a lengthy review and a bevy of ejections, many of which were subsequently overturned by the SEC office. It’s not something that happens often, but it probably is a rule that needs to be evaluated in the offseason.

Tensions never cooled throughout the game. Then, in the 13th inning, they spilled over again. Clemson’s Alden Mathes hit a solo home run to give the Tigers the lead and emphatically spiked his bat in celebration. He was away from any other players and facing the Clemson dugout (which, again, is on the first base side) when he did it. Still, it appeared that the umpires took objection to his celebration and convened a conference after the play. Coming out of that confusion, Jack Leggett, Clemson’s hall of fame former coach and current director of program development, was ejected. The umpires then called coach Erik Bakich out of the dugout, apparently for an explanation. That conversation started calmly enough, but something enflamed Bakich and he started to argue. That led to his ejection and, as he continued his argument and followed the umpires through the infield, an infraction triggering a suspension. As he exited the field, he pumped the crowd up.

I wrote some version of the word “appear” a couple times in that explanation. That’s because the umpires did not offer their version of events. The NCAA released a statement from baseball secretary-rules editor Randy Bruns three hours after the game ended, in which he said he had not received “any specific details” on the ejections in the 13th inning. Meanwhile, NCAA rules prevented Bakich from meeting with the media following the game because he was ejected. That – along with Clemson’s decision not to bring an assistant coach to the press conference – left only the Tigers’ players to explain what happened and obviously they weren’t privy to all the details.

That is an all-around failure. The NCAA taking three hours to produce a useless statement, in which Bruns still doesn’t have any explanation for the events of the 13th inning, is absurd. If he just wanted to explain why Bakich would be suspended for the ejection, that statement could have been released two minutes after he left the field – it’s not a complicated or obscure rule. Meanwhile, the rule prohibiting coaches from talking after an ejection is at best paternalistic and at worst a systematic way to duck public criticism. I wasn’t on site, so I’m not entirely sure what went into Clemson’s decision not to bring an assistant coach to press conference. What I am sure of is that leaving the business of answering questions about the controversies to the players, some of whom had just seen their college careers end, isn’t fair.

A lot went wrong Sunday, much of it in the way decisions were communicated, both to the public and to the dugouts. As a journalist, I’m probably more sensitive to those kinds of errors than the average fan, but better communication fosters better trust and relationships between the umpires and coaches, players, media and fans. At this point, the best thing that can come out of it is a thorough evaluation of the rules involved and the process by which they were applied and explained.

3. Kentucky made history Sunday as it beat Oregon State, 3-2, to advance to the College World Series for the first time in program history. It wasn’t easy for the Wildcats, as they were locked in a dogfight all night and had to escape a ninth-inning jam that saw the Beavers get the tying run to third base. But Kentucky did it and now is headed to Omaha.

Kentucky beat Oregon State this weekend thanks to its pitching. After holding the Beavers to one hit in a 10-0 shut out in Game 1, the Wildcats held them to just two hits Sunday. Oregon State came into the weekend averaging 8.7 runs per game (15th in the country), led by All-American second baseman Travis Bazzana. It got held to two runs on three hits in two games in Lexington.

On Sunday, Kentucky pieced it together on the mound. Mason Moore (3.1 IP, 0 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 6 BB, 4 K) was effectively wild before turning it over to the bullpen. Caden O’Brien (3 IP), Robert Hogan (2.1 IP) and Johnny Hummel (.1 IP) combined for 5.2 scoreless innings of relief. On a night when runs were at a premium against Jacob Kmatz and the best of the Oregon State bullpen, Kentucky needed its own pitching to be sharp and it delivered.

Nick Mingione has done an impressive job of program building in his eight years at Kentucky. In 2017, his first season, he inherited a strong roster and led the Wildcats to their first ever regional championship. It took a few years and some growing pains for the first-time head coach to get the Wildcats back into the spotlight, but they did it last season when they hosted regionals and won. They were stopped short in super regionals by LSU but came back stronger in 2024 and now have broken through to Omaha.

The Wildcats may be first-timers in the CWS, but they’re no underdog story any more. Their multi-faceted offense should travel well to Charles Schwab Field and if they can keep pitching like they did this weekend, they’ll be tough competitors in Omaha.

4. After a tough loss Saturday that forced a Game 3 of the Knoxville Super Regional, Tennessee on Sunday was all business. The Volunteers routed Evansville, 12-1. They hit seven home runs and got an excellent start from Zander Sechrist (6.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K).

Tennessee is now going to the CWS for the third time in the last four seasons, joining only Stanford and Virginia as teams that can make that claim.

Tony Vitello built a juggernaut in Knoxville. All that’s left now is to win the national championship. It’ll go to Omaha as the favorite.  

5. Texas A&M came back to defeat Oregon, 15-9, to win the College Station Super Regional. The Aggies scored nine runs in the seventh to erase a deficit and turn the game into what looked like an easy win. In reality, it was anything but.

A&M is headed to Omaha for the second time in three years, but this super regional took a toll. On Saturday, All-American outfielder Braden Montgomery was lost for the season with a leg injury that has him on crutches. On Sunday, starter Shane Sdao left the game with a trainer after throwing just 11 pitches. Outfielder Hayden Schott is also playing through a knee injury.

Those injuries are starting to add up at the wrong time of year. Kaeden Kent, who replaced Montgomery in the lineup, stepped up in a big way Sunday. He went 3-for-5 with a double and a grand slam, which really broke the game open in the seventh. The Aggies will need him to keep hitting and for someone to do something similar on the mound as a replacement for Sdao. They’re plenty talented, but to make it out of a pool of Florida, Kentucky and either Georgia or NC State will be difficult enough, especially at something less than full strength.

6. One day after getting beaten 18-1 to open the Athens Super Regional, Georgia turned the tables on NC State and routed the Wolfpack, 11-2. That forces a winner-take-all Game 3 on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET.

Sunday’s game was nearly a mirror image of Saturday’s. Georgia got an excellent start from Leighton Finley (6.1 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K), scored eight runs in the first four innings and never looked back.

Will Game 3 be competitive, or will it be another blowout one way or the other? Monday’s game will be a night game, the first of the weekend in Athens, so perhaps the park will play a bit bigger. But both teams will certainly be ready to leave it all on the field with a trip to Omaha on the line.

7. The first two College World Series, in 1947 and 1948, consisted of a best-of-three-game series between two teams. The field expanded to four teams in 1949 and then to eight the following year.

In every year since the field expanded beyond two teams, there have been more than two conferences represented in the CWS. Until 2024. There will this year only be teams from the ACC and SEC. There’s still one spot up for grabs, as NC State and Georgia have to play a Game 3 on Monday night, but as it stands now, there are four SEC teams (Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas A&M) and three ACC teams (Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia) in the field.

The ACC and SEC have dominated the rankings – pick a ranking, any ranking, the Top 25, any computer metric, another human poll – all season long, but it’s still jarring to see every other conference sidelined at this stage.

8. Hosts continue to dominate in the NCAA Tournament. After Sunday’s games, the hosts in this year’s tournament are 45-14 (.763). In super regionals, they are 13-4 (.767). Six of the seven teams to advance to the CWS so far hosted each of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Only Florida has advanced to Omaha without playing at home this June.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone