Tennessee, Texas A&M Book Places In 2024 College World Series Championship Series


Image credit: Blake Burke (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

Wednesday saw a rare tripleheader in Omaha and after a day full of baseball, the College World Series championship series is set.

Florida started the day with a 15-4 victory against Kentucky to advance to the bracket final. Tennessee beat Florida State, 7-2, in the afternoon to book its place in the CWS finals. The day ended with Texas A&M beating Florida, 6-0, to claim the other spot in the finals. For the first time since 2019, both CWS finalists have swept through their brackets, setting up a thrilling championship series.

Here are five takeaways from Wednesday in Omaha.

Tennessee Returns To Title Game For First Time Since 1951

Tennessee rolled into the CWS championship series behind an excellent start from lefthander Zander Sechrist and another dynamic offensive performance. In many respects, it was just another day at the park for the Volunteers, who have put together so many games just like that this season. Wednesday was, of course, different, as it means Tennessee will play for the national championship for just the second time in program history and the first time since 1951.

The stage might have been bigger, but Tennessee was very much up to the challenge. The Volunteers came out swinging against Florida State and plated three runs in the top of the first. They held a 5-0 lead by the fourth inning and never looked back.

Tennessee is in its third CWS appearance in four years. It’s two previous trips didn’t go nearly this well, as it went 0-2 in 2021 and 1-2 in 2023. In between those trips was the Volunteers’ spectacular 2022 season that saw them win the SEC title to earn the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament but get upset at home by Notre Dame in super regionals.

Now, Tennessee has taken the next step, starting 3-0 in Omaha to sweep through pool play and reach the championship series.

“We always say before something happens, something happens,” coach Tony Vitello said. “There’s been a lot of buildup into the successes we’ve had this year and the failures, too, to be honest with you. And it’s been fun to be a part of.”

Tennessee, which won the SEC again this season and is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, is now aiming for the program’s first national championship. For a program that hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament for 12 seasons when Vitello was hired in the summer of 2017, it’s been an impressive rise.

Justin Lamkin Steps Up For Texas A&M

Much like Tennessee, Texas A&M wasted no time establishing itself Wednesday. Four of its first five batters drew walks, leading to two runs. The pitching staff was good enough that those first-inning runs would have been enough, though the Aggies tacked on more later and rolled to a comfortable victory.

Lefthander Justin Lamkin struck out nine batters and held Florida to three hits and a walk in five innings. Righthander Chris Cortez was first out of the bullpen and walked the only two batters he faced. Josh Stewart and Evan Aschenbeck threw two scoreless innings apiece to finish the game. The Aggies combined for a four-hit shutout, striking out 14 batters.

Lamkin has had an up-and-down sophomore season and had gotten just one out in the NCAA Tournament before the CWS. But with A&M losing No. 2 starter Shane Sdao to injury in super regionals, the Aggies have needed more out of Lamkin in Omaha, and he’s delivered in a big way. He started both Saturday and Wednesday against Florida and threw a total of eight scoreless innings. He struck out 15 batters, walked one and held the Gators to four hits.

“I think the big part of it is just having self-confidence in myself and knowing I can go out there and I can compete and play at this level,” Lamkin said. “I think just getting ahead of hitters and just having true confidence in all my pitches really helped me out.”

Lamkin’s win was his first since March 23 when he beat Mississippi State. Wednesday’s start was just the second time he threw more than four innings in 12 appearances since then and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Aggies.

Without Sdao, A&M has had to scramble a bit on the mound. In Omaha, the answer has been a double dose of Lamkin. He now is 3-2, 5.00 with 86 strikeouts and 20 walks in 63 innings this season and is pitching as well as he has all year.

The question for A&M now becomes how to handle its pitching in the championship series. Lefthander Ryan Prager, the Aggies’ No. 1 starter, threw 95 pitches on Monday against Kentucky. Lamkin threw 70 pitches Wednesday after throwing 42 pitches on Saturday. No Aggie other than Sdao has started a game since Tanner Jones threw 3.1 innings against Grambling State in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament.

“Lamkin was obviously outstanding,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “The decision was just trying to figure out how long to leave him in there, you know, win the game but still give us a chance over the weekend since we’re down a pitcher.”

Despite Uneven Year, Florida Rallied In Crunch Time

Florida became the first team since 2012 to play two full games on the same day in the CWS. It couldn’t have had two more different games, as it rolled past Kentucky, 15-4 in the morning, before losing, 6-0, to A&M in the nightcap.

Despite the tough end to the day, Florida was still one of the last four teams playing college baseball this season. Considering how hard the Gators had to hustle to end the regular season with a winning record and ensure they were eligible for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, reaching this stage of the CWS was all the more impressive.

The tale has been told plenty now over the last month, but Florida trailed Georgia, 4-2, after seven innings on May 17. It came back to win that game, 7-4, in 10 innings and then won again the next day. If the Gators didn’t win those two games, they would have had to made a run to the SEC Tournament semifinals to finish above .500 and become eligible for an at-large bid.

This was to the chagrin of some, who believed their 28-27 record wasn’t good enough, no matter how good Florida’s strength of schedule was (it was No. 1). The Gators took the hard route to Omaha, winning the Stillwater Regional out of the loser’s bracket and then taking down Clemson on the road in super regionals.

“We had a terrific year,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs. Our players persevered through a lot of different tough moments. Awfully proud of our team.

“I know a lot of our guys are extremely disappointed, but speaking from my heart, I’m just awfully proud of them, for what they were able to accomplish this year and have this experience out here in Omaha.”

The Gators will look different next year. Jac Caglianone, arguably the best player in program history, will move on as a premier draft pick. Several other players, like shortstop Cody Shelton and bullpen ace Brandon Neely, are also likely headed for pro ball.

Florida was young on the mound, which was part of its struggles this season, especially early. Righthander Liam Peterson, who started twice in Omaha, will return to anchor the rotation. Infielder Cade Kurland will be back as the lineup’s sparkplug.

The expectations at Florida never slacken and its talent level will keep it among the best teams in the country. But without Caglianone, Florida will have to find some new answers next season.

Florida State’s Incredible Turnaround

Florida State orchestrated the best turnaround in the country this season, as it went from 23-31 and finishing last in the ACC in 2023 to this season going 49-17 and reaching the CWS. That journey ended Wednesday with the loss to Tennessee, as Florida State ran a little short on pitching and finally had its offense, which had averaged more than 10 runs per game during the NCAA Tournament, quieted.

Coach Link Jarrett said he told his team after the game that they were “the most dynamic team” he’s ever coached.

“That goes personality, heart, the way they played, the style, the physicality of that group,” he said. “It was just fun. They made everyday fun, and it becomes more fun when you can stack the quality of play that we saw them stack throughout the beginning part of the season, the middle part of the season and the postseason. It was remarkable.”

Florida State began the season with 19 straight wins. It swept the season series against Florida, reached the ACC Tournament championship game, earned a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament and reached Omaha for the first time since 2019. After slogging through the most disappointing season in program history last year, it bounced back to be one of the last four teams standing.

Now, Jarrett and Florida State will look to reload. The Seminoles will lose the dynamic duo of outfielder James Tibbs III, the ACC player of the year, and third baseman Cam Smith. Both project to be top-15 picks in next month’s draft.

Much of the rest of the team figures to return, however. At the forefront is lefthander Jamie Arnold, who emerged this season as not only the team’s best starter but also the best pitcher in the 2025 draft class. Florida State dealt with several injuries on the mound this season, including losing Opening Day starter Cam Leiter for the second half of the season.

If Florida State can pair Arnold and Leiter in the rotation with the kind of deep, balanced offense it built this season, it would make for one of the most formidable teams in the country in 2025.

Jarrett instructed his assistant coaches to write down everything they observed during the CWS in terms of team construction and what they think they need to win in Omaha. Now, it is time to apply those lessons for the 2025 team.

“Now you’re grabbing what you think gets you the trophy here,” Jarrett said. “Last year you’re trying to build a roster, a competitive roster that’s more athletic, that had some depth and had some lefthanded bats and had some better arm options.

“Now, that’s what I told the coaches, think about everything that you feel you need right now. Some of it may be out there and available.”

Kentucky’s Special Runs Comes To An End

Kentucky’s loss brought an end to its remarkable season. The Wildcats advanced to the CWS for the first time ever after winning a program-record 46 games.

Kentucky was picked fifth in the preseason SEC coaches poll. It went on to break down the wall to Omaha, finish tied with Tennessee atop the SEC and host a super regional for the first time ever.

Coach Nick Mingione said he’s known since the start of SEC play that this year’s Wildcats were special.

“I’ve done an amazing job this year of taking all this in,” Mingione said. “I could just sense, I knew how special they were. Their uncommon focus every single day, their unselfishness. I really dreaded this day because I just want to keep being around these guys. They are truly an amazing group of men.

“The way they represented this program, the institution and our state, like, the entire state of Kentucky, is really remarkable.”

Kentucky has now made back-to-back super regionals and doesn’t look like it’s slowing down as a program. The Wildcats will have to replace several key players, including 11 seniors. They also project to lose outfielder Ryan Waldschmidt, who figures to become the program’s first first-round pick since Zach Thompson (2019).

But the Wildcats won’t completely reset the roster. They have some draft-eligible players who are likely to return for another season. And while their freshman class didn’t play a big role in 2024, the staff has done a good job of retaining its young players and allowing them to grow into roles later in their career. Kentucky will also refresh the program through the transfer portal, which has proved to be a fruitful recruiting ground for the Wildcats.

Life in the SEC makes it difficult to maintain a high level of successlook no further than Florida and LSU scuffling to 13-17 conference records this season after playing for the national title in 2023but Kentucky now seems to be at a point in its program building where it can be expected to compete year in and year out.

“There’s no reason that this program can’t stay at the top and be among this group every single year,” senior righthander Ryan Hagenow said. “With the staff that we have, all around, not just coaching staff, training staff, our equipment manager and with the stadium and the fan base we have and coach Minge leading the way, there’s no reason this team shouldn’t continue to have success.

“I think it takes years to build that foundation. But I think we definitely built it.”

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