Kentucky, Texas A&M Win Thrillers At 2024 College World Series


Image credit: Kentucky Wildcats Mitchell Daly (2) hits a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the tenth inning to win it for the Wildcats 5-4 over the North Carolina State Wolf Pack in game three of the 2024 College World Series at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday, June 15, 2024 (Photo by Eddie Kelly / ProLook Photos)

The 2024 College World Series brought more thrillers on Saturday, as Kentucky beat NC State on a walk-off home run in the 10th inning and Texas A&M won a one-run game against Florida.

Here are four takeaways from the day.

A Dream Start To The College World Series

The College World Series again delivered plenty of drama Saturday. After both games Friday ended in walk-off fashion, Saturday started with an extra-inning, walk-off win for Kentucky and ended with Texas A&M edging Florida 3-2 in the nightcap.

All four games in the opening round of the CWS have been decided by one run. The first three were walk-offs, marking the first time in the 77-year history of the CWS there have been three straight walk-offs. While that streak ended Saturday night, A&M’s win went down to the wire and required a home-run robbery in the ninth inning to hang onto the lead.

It’s been a dream start for college baseball fans.

“Everybody who is coming to the game is certainly getting their money’s worth,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “These were all four exciting games.”

While there were several blowouts in super regionalseight of 18 games were decided by five runs or morethere’s been nothing but close, tense games in Omaha.

A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle said the excitement in Omaha is a result of what he called a golden age for college baseball.

“I just think that you have eight of the best teams in college baseball from two of the best conferences, and (the margins are) just so thin,” he said. “I just think the players are amazing. This is the golden age of college baseball. I’ve been around it 35 years. It’s never been this good. It can’t get worse because the draft is what it is, and the players are so great.”

As great as the first four games have been, the rest of the CWS promises even more thrills. The event’s first elimination game is Sunday between Virginia and Florida State, which will ratchet up the tension even higher. And the winners bracket game Sunday night between North Carolina and Tennessee is critical, as it will push the victor into the driver’s seat in the bracket.

If you’ve liked the CWS so far, just wait. There’s plenty more fun to come.

Welcome To Omaha, Kentucky

Kentucky couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic Omaha debut.

After falling behind 4-3 in the ninth on a wild pitch, the Wildcats tied the game in the bottom of the inning on a leadoff home run from Ryan Nicholson. They got the winning run to third base with two outs on a very aggressive baserunning play by pinch runner Ty Crittenberger. The lineup turned over, but NC State was able to escape the jam thanks to a ground ball that took a deflection to second baseman Matt Heavner.

In the 10th inning, Devin Burkes drew a leadoff walkusually a recipe for successbut he was thrown out trying to steal second base for the second out of the inning. That only set up Daly for the walk-off, however.

Teams making their CWS debuts rarely fare well–Kentucky is only the sixth team in the last 30 years to win its first ever game in Omaha. But the Wildcats were never overwhelmed by the moment or stage. That should come as no surprise given what they have already accomplished this season.

Coach Nick Mingione said one of the keys to Kentucky’s success all season has been the ability of the players to focus on what’s in front of them and move on to the next game the next day, win or lose.

“One of the things this team does well is they support each other, and they just move on,” he said. “They just move on and it’s crucial to our success.”

Nicholson said the Wildcats were never going to be satisfied just by getting to Omaha.

“This game is a really good starting point and a big confidence builder going forward,” Nicholson said. “We didn’t just come here just to be happy that we were here. We came here to win games. And that’s what we were trying to do today.”

No, The Wildcats Are Not A Small-Ball Team

Kentucky has been complimented often this season for its atypical offensive approach. And the Wildcats do zig when a lot of programs, especially in the SEC, are zagging. Among Power Five conference teams, no one has more sacrifice bunts than Kentucky’s 44, and only Kansas State has stolen more bases than its 119.

Kentucky wants to put pressure on opposing defenses and force them into mistakes.

“We create pressure, and we attack,” Mingione said. “And I’ll tell you somebody who is good with it is my boss, Mitch Barnhart. He’s totally fine with us being aggressive and attacking. He loves it. So that’s what we do, we are aggressive, and we attack.”

But labelling the Wildcats as a small-ball team is not correct and they showed thatagainSaturday. No one is going to confuse Kentucky with Tennessee (which leads the nation in home runs), but the Wildcats hit three home runs against NC State and wouldn’t have beaten the Wolfpack without the long ball.

“That’s why I started just calling our offense a whatever-it-takes type offense because our guys are so talented,” Mingione said. “When we get production up and down our lineup, that’s us at our best, and we can do it in all different ways. And you know what? There’s a lot of coaching that goes into that. But for the players to be able to execute all those different things, we have to be very intentional.”

Kentucky’s power has especially come on strong in the second half of the season. Adding that dimension has made the Wildcats’ offense even tougher to stop.

Aggies Succeed Despite Key Injuries

Last week, Texas A&M lost both outfielder Braden Montgomery and lefthander Shane Sdao to injury in the College Station Super Regional. It didn’t take long in the CWS for their absences to get pressure tested. On Saturday, at least, the Aggies proved to be up to the challenge.

Montgomery would have ordinarily been playing right field and it would have been up to him to rob Kurland’s home run ball in the ninth inning. Montgomery is a better defender than LaViolette and may well have made the play, but he’s also listed at 6-foot-2 to LaViollette’s 6-foot-6. He likely would have had to jump to make the play, making it at least a little bit tougher.

The loss of Sdao, who had moved to the No. 2 spot in A&M’s rotation in recent weeks, has forced the Aggies to adjust their pitching plan. Schlossnagle said that was part of the reason A&M lifted starter Justin Lamkin after three innings and 42 pitches. The lefthander held the Gators to one hit and struck out six batters, but Schlossnagle was not tempted to keep him in the game.

“We just felt like if we let him go any longer, even if we won the game and won the next game, we’re going to be creating stuff in the third game,” Schlossnagle said. “And I know you’ve got to win the first one. Everybody says that. But we’re trying to win the whole thing or at least give ourselves a chance without Sdao.

“So, we felt if we kept him under a certain number of pitches and we had a day off, and if we could somehow win the second game, I think we get another day. Then maybe Lamkin can come back and help us out some.”

A&M will turn to lefthander Ryan Prager in Monday’s winners bracket game against Kentucky. After that, it sounds like it will be an all-hands on deck approach, regardless of whether the Aggies win or lose.

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