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Super Regional Takeaways: Tennessee Storms Back, Texas A&M Punches CWS Ticket



Tennessee Comes Back Swinging

After taking a punch Friday night and losing the opener of the Knoxville Super Regional to Notre Dame, No. 1 Tennessee on Saturday had its back against the wall, facing elimination. The Volunteers seemed to be unfazed by the situation and came out swinging in game 2.

Facing Notre Dame ace John Michael Bertrand, Tennessee scored a run in the first inning to take an early lead and then broke the game open with an eight-run fifth inning during which it hit four home runs. Armed with a nine-run lead and righthander Chase Dollander, the SEC pitcher of the year, on the mound, the Volunteers were off to the races. They went on to win, 12-4, setting up a winner-take-all game 3 on Sunday.

It was as good a response to Friday’s loss as Tennessee could have asked for. The Volunteers had their backs against the wall for the first time this season and were missing center fielder Drew Gilbert and pitching coach Frank Anderson, who were suspended following ejections in Friday’s loss. In Bertrand, they were facing Notre Dame’s best pitcher, who had stymied Texas Tech last week in regionals.

Put it all together, and Tennessee was facing as much adversity as it had all season long. It more than answered the bell.

“Our guys did a good job of coming to the park with some determination today,” coach Tony Vitello said. “It’s hard not to follow the lead of (Dollander). I think a lot can be said for that.”

Momentum is the next day’s pitcher, as the saying goes. And the Volunteers got to turn to Dollander, who has been their best pitcher this season and is a candidate to be the first overall pick in 2023. He held Notre Dame, which hit four home runs Friday night, to two runs on five hits and no walks in seven innings. He struck out five batters and improved to 10-0, 2.41 on the season.

Dollander had everything working for him Saturday in the biggest start of his career.

“The fastball was playing up really well today and I was able to use all four of my pitches today,” he said. “Usually, the curveball really isn’t there, but today it was. I kind of used that to my advantage.”

Now, everything is on the line Sunday. Notre Dame (39-15) is aiming for its first trip to the College World Series since 2002. Tennessee (57-8) is looking to continue its magical season and take its national title aspirations to Omaha. After two exciting games in Lindsey Nelson Stadium, the grand finale awaits.

Texas A&M Clinches College World Series Berth

The first team to this year secure its spot in the College World Series field was Texas A&M, which beat Louisville, 4-3, to sweep the College Station Super Regional. While the series was a sweep, the Aggies won both games by just a run, edging the Cardinals in a pair of tight games.

The Aggies’ bullpen played hero Saturday, as Will Johnston, Brad Rudis and Jacob Palisch combined for 4.1 scoreless innings of relief of starter Micah Dallas. The offense did just enough to erase a one-run deficit after the fifth inning thanks to a Ryan Targac home run in the sixth inning and a go-ahead sacrifice fly from Dylan Rock an inning later.

As good as the super regional was, the bigger story is the turnaround Texas A&M has engineered under first-year coach Jim Schlossnagle. The Aggies last year went 29-27 overall, finished last in the SEC West (9-21), missed the SEC Tournament and saw coach Rob Childress ousted after 16 years. This year, they are 42-18, won the division (19-11) and are headed to Omaha for the first time since 2017.

Much has changed about the roster in the last year, as the new coaching staff hit the transfer portal hard, bringing in players like Dallas, Palisch and Rock, among many others. But A&M has also made considerable strides over the course of the spring. This is the same team that lost a series to Pennsylvania in College Station in February and went 1-2 in the Frisco Classic the following weekend.

Those tough weekends have long since been left in the rearview mirror by the Aggies. They’re now headed to Omaha and focused firmly on the program’s bright future.

UConn Stuns Stanford With Early Blitz

Earlier this week, Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, who has won 11 national titles with the Huskies, had some high praise for Jim Penders, who has been UConn’s baseball coach for 19 years.

“I think he’s the best coach ever to coach at Connecticut in any sport,” Auriemma said. “To be able to go where they went playing on a baseball field that was not as good as some of the high school fields these kids played on, come on. No one’s done more with less than that guy. And now that he’s got more, it’s going to be unbelievable.”

Auriemma was referencing 2-year-old Elliot Ballpark, which opened in 2021 and gave UConn perhaps the best stadium in the Northeast. It was a big step for the program and the unbelievable results Auriemma was suggesting would follow are already arriving.

On Saturday, UConn beat Stanford, 13-12, in a wild game one of the Stanford Super Regional. UConn scored the first nine runs of the game to open a large, early lead, but Stanford stormed back late, scoring six runs in the ninth inning and eventually bringing the winning run to the plate against closer Justin Willis.

The Cardinal hit eight home runs in the game, but the comeback attempt fell short. Now, the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament is on the brink of elimination.

UConn blitzed righthander Alex Williams, the Pac-12 pitcher of the year, knocking him out of the game in the second inning. The Huskies scored nine runs in the first two innings to open a sizable lead that they would not relinquish the rest of the night, even as the powerful Cardinal offense attempted to mount a comeback.

UConn pounded out 17 hits, including 10 for extra bases, and scored 13 runs, the most any team has scored against Stanford in three months (Oregon, 16 runs, March 12). Korey Morton hit a double and a home run and Matt Donlan homered for the second straight game.

Stanford wouldn’t go quietly, however. It blasted eight home runs, including four in the ninth inning, to make the UConn bullpen work. While the Huskies still have ace Austin Peterson slated to start Sunday, they had to use their top three relievers in a game they led 9-0 in the second inning. Facing an offense as potent as Stanford’s, that may prove to be significant later in the weekend.

Just as it wasn’t easy to close out Stanford on Saturday, it won’t be easy to finish the series off. But UConn is now one win away from its first CWS appearance since 1979. For a program that has long operated as an underdog, that’s an advantage the Huskies can work with.

Ole Miss Stays Red Hot

In the middle part of the season, when Mississippi couldn’t find any traction and lost four straight SEC series, pitching was a real problem for the Rebels. Eventually, they found the right combination on the mound, pulled out of their skid and got into the NCAA Tournament as one of the last four teams in the field.

Looking at Ole Miss now, you’d never know it once was fighting it on the mound. The Rebels on Saturday defeated Southern Mississippi, 10-0, to open the Hattiesburg Super Regional, outpitching a team that came into the weekend ranked second in the nation in team ERA (3.17).

Righthander Dylan Delucia started the game for Ole Miss and threw 5.2 innings, working around four hits and two walks. He struck out nine batters and improved to 6-2, 4.35 on the season.

Righthander Jack Dougherty followed DeLucia and threw the final 3.1 innings to finish the game. He faced the minimum 10 batters allowing Southern Miss just a hit batter, which he erased on the next pitch with a double play.

Ole Miss’ big day on the mound was especially impressive, as it came against a Southern Miss team that scored 22 runs over three games last week against Louisiana State. On Saturday, however, the Golden Eagles were held to four hits and after a potentially game-altering grand slam hooked foul in the fifth inning, they put just one more runner in scoring position.

Ole Miss has pitched well throughout the postseason. Counting the Rebels’ one game at the SEC Tournament, they have held opponents to 14 runs (12 earned) in five games since the end of the regular season. In that stretch, they have a 1.05 WHIP and are averaging 13.09 strikeouts per nine innings.

If Ole Miss finishes off the Hattiesburg Super Regional with another win and advances to Omaha for the first time since 2014, its renaissance on the mound is going to be a chief reason for its surge.

Conference call

After two days of super regionals action, here’s how every conference stacks up. Notably, the SEC went a perfect 5-0 on Saturday.

American: 1-1
ACC: 2-5
Big East: 1-0
Big 12: 2-2
Conference USA: 0-1
Pac-12: 0-2
SEC: 6-1

Tommy White (Brian Westerholt Four Seam Images)

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