Tennessee, Florida State Score Key Wins At 2024 College World Series


Image credit: Tennessee RHP Drew Beam (Photo by Danny Parker/Four Seam Images)

Things started to get real Sunday at the College World Series. Florida State beat Virginia 7-3 in the first elimination game of the event. Tennessee then defeated North Carolina 6-1 in the winner’s bracket game.

Those results see Tennessee advance to the bracket final on Wednesday, while Florida State and North Carolina will play Tuesday for the right to face the Volunteers.

Here are five takeaways from Sunday in Omaha.

Volunteers Continue To Impress

Tennessee worked through some early jitters Friday before walking off with a 12-11 win against Florida State, using a ninth-inning comeback to do so. There were no such issues Sunday against North Carolina.

The Volunteers’ lineup was silenced early by lefthander Shea Sprague, and they didn’t have a hit through three innings. But that changed quickly in the fourth, as they went through the lineup for a second time against the UNC starter. Blake Burke led off with a single, Dylan Dreiling drew a walk and Kavares Tears hit a two-out, three-run home run to right field to open the scoring. Reese Chapman led off the fifth inning with a home run of his own and Tennessee was off and running.

UNC got a run back to start the sixth inning when Vance Honeycutt smashed a home run off Drew Beam. The Tar Heels looked like they were going to put together a big inning, as Casey Cook and Parks Harber followed with singles, chasing Bewam from the game. But lefthander Kirby Connell put out the fire with a groundout, a pick off and a strike out.

From there, it was all Tennessee. The Volunteers added a couple more runs late and the bullpen continued to shut down the Tar Heels en route to a 6-1 victory.

Tennessee has been the No. 1 team in the country for the last two months and on Sunday it very much looked the part. The win also pushed the Vols into the bracket final, meaning they’ll get two days off and either UNC or Florida State will now have to beat them twice to advance to the championship series.

Tennessee has now won two very different games in Omaha. On Friday, it needed its offense to carry a lot of the weight after it dug itself a big hole early. On Sunday, its pitching staff held UNC offense averaging 8.6 runs per game to just one run on five hits.

To win two games against two teams that were top-eight overall seeds in the NCAA Tournament in such different ways speaks to how many different ways Tennessee can beat teams. Coach Tony Vitello credited the team’s overall chemistry.

“It would be nice to have Michael Jordan and say you’ve got the best guy to take over, or Peyton Manning to lead the way,” Vitello said. “But this is deal where you got nine guys and baseballs flying around and arms moving and things like that and energy in the dugout. There’s just a lot of things that happen in our sport, with all due respect to the others. What carries the heavy weight for us is the camaraderie.”

Famously, no No. 1 overall seed has won the NCAA Tournament since Miami in 1999. Tennessee is now three wins away from breaking that drought. That’s still a long way to go, but the way the Volunteers have played so far in Omaha, there’s a lot of reason to believe they can be the team to do it.

Hunter Ensley Flashes The Leather

There have been plenty of highlight-reel defensive plays in the CWS, but the best so far was probably Tennessee center fielder Hunter Ensley’s catch as he slammed into the wall in the second inning.

UNC cleanup hitter Anthony Donforio drove a ball into center field, over Ensley’s head. He had to sprint back to the wall, and he didn’t slow up, crashing into the wall at close to full speed just a step or two after snagging the ball.

“I knew it was going to carry and I knew where it was going to go,” Ensley said. “I guess I was fortunate enough to run into the wall and make the catch, but the wall got me pretty good.”

Righthander Drew Beam was awestruck on the mound, thankful Ensley had saved a tripleor more.

“I was dumbfounded,” Beam said. “That was a crazy catch.”

Ensley, a redshirt junior, has developed into one of Tennessee’s key players over his four years in Knoxville. He’s been an everyday player the last two seasons, and this year is hitting .289/.392/.533 with 11 home runs, in addition to playing high-level defense.

While his catch Sunday was sensational, it’s the kind of play the Volunteers have come to expect from him.

“The wall didn’t stand a chance,” reliever Kirby Connell said.

Ensley left the game two innings later after Tennessee took the lead. He suffered a lower body injury, but is considered day-to-day and said that getting two days offTennessee doesn’t play again until Wednesdayshould make it possible for him to not miss a game.

Jaime Ferrer Keeps Raking

Jaime Ferrer homered twice in Florida State’s victory, continuing his hot stretch at the plate. He’s on a 13-game hitting streak, during which he is 22-for-55 with eight home runs.

He’s been even hotter of late. He has five home runs in his last four gamestwo in Omaha and two in super regionals. He’s 8-for-17, six of those eight hits have gone for extra bases and he’s struck out just once.

On Sunday, Ferrer went 2-for-4 and drove in four runs. He became the first Florida State player to hit multiple home runs in a CWS game since Marshall McDougall in 2000.

Both of Ferrer’s home runs went out to the bullpen right down the left field line. The wind was blowing to left during the game and while hitting home runs in Charles Schwab Field remains difficult, getting them into the bullpens down the lines remains the best way to do it.

But Ferrer said he wasn’t doing anything differently than normal on Sunday.

“During BP we noticed a lot of balls were leaving the park if they were elevated to left field,” Ferrer said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to stick to your same approach. You’ve got to look for one pitch. And when you get it, you can’t miss it.”

UVA Disappoints… Again

Virginia’s loss means the Cavaliers went 0-2 for the second straight year in Omaha. While they have reached the CWS in three of the last four seasons, they are 1-6 in those appearances and have lost six straight games.

Getting to Omaha is hard enough and Virginia has reestablished itself as probably the best program in the ACC over the last four years. But now that the Cavaliers are consistently getting to the CWS, it’s fair to ask what they have to do to get over the hump and make an extended stay in Omaha.

Four of their six losses have come by one run, including Friday’s 3-2 walk-off loss to North Carolina. So, while the trips have ended disappointingly quickly, Virginia is clearly close.

“It’s just being a little bit better, having some guys that when we’ve won in the past, we’ve had really, really elite pitching and always have played great defense,” coach Brian O’Connor said. “So, it’s to get a little bit better on the mound and finishing innings off on the mound. We’ve got to get some position players the next time we come here that really step up and have big days. And we just didn’t have enough of it today.

“I don’t think it’s anything with regards to the program or anything. We’re proud of making our seventh trip, but I feel like we absolutely know what it takes to win in Omaha. You’ve just got to get the guys to do it. And when you come here enough, there’s going to be times that you don’t perform real well.

“We’re really, really close. We were really close last year and just have to be focused on being a little bit, as you said, that 1 percent, a little bit better. And we weren’t that this weekend.”

Virginia is likely to lose five regulars from its lineup, including shortstop Griff O’Ferrall, who O’Connor called a “program changer.” Some key pitchers also figure to move on, including righthander Jay Woolfolk, who started Sunday.

But Virginia will return infielders Henry Godbout (.372/.472/.645) and Henry Ford (.336/.409/.597, 17 HR), two of the team’s top hitters and lefthander Evan Blanco (8-3, 3.62), the team’s No. 1 starter. A return to Omaha in 2025 is not out of the question.

A Little Home Cooking

The first six games in the CWS have all been won by the team that was nominally the home team. That hasn’t happened in Omaha since 1984, when the home team won the first 11 games.

There’s probably not a ton to take from that stat. There have been three walk-offs and that’s helping the numbers. But it’s striking nonethelessand an extension of a very chalky first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone