Texas A&M’s Ryan Prager, Florida’s Jac Caglianone Star Monday At 2024 College World Series


Image credit: Ryan Prager (18) Texas A&M Aggies vs Kentucky Wildcats in game eight of the 2024 College World Series at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska on Monday, June 16, 2024 (Photo by Eddie Kelly / ProLook Photos)

The stars shined brightly Monday at the College World Series. Florida’s Jac Caglianone tied Florida’s career home run record in a 5-4 victory against NC State. In the nightcap, Texas A&M ace Ryan Prager carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning to lead the Aggies to a 5-1 victory against Kentucky.

Those results see Texas A&M advance to the bracket final on Wednesday, while Florida and Kentucky will play Tuesday for the right to face the Aggies.

Here are five takeaways from Monday in Omaha.

Ryan Prager Dominates For Texas A&M

1. Ryan Prager was masterful Monday night. He worked quickly, pounded the strike zone and, for 6.2 innings, was unhittable.

Prager carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning and got two outs before Ryan Nicholson laced a single to right field. It was the deepest a pitcher has carried a no-hitter into a game in the CWS since Griff McGarry threw 7.1 hitless innings in 2021 against Mississippi State.

“He had all three pitches going,” coach Jim Scholossnagle said. “He filled up the strike zone enough where I think Kentucky started swinging more, got him some early outs in some situations where he could pitch deeper in the game.”

Prager’s night ended one batter after the no-hitter was broken up, as Nolan McCarthy followed Nicholson’s hit with a double. A&M went to Josh Stewart, who threw the final 2.1 innings to close out a 5-1 victory.

Prager struck out four batters and walked one in 6.2 innings. He wasn’t overpowering, but pounded the strike zone with his fastball, slider and changeup. On a night when the wind was whipping in from center field, he controlled the game and used the conditions and ballpark to his advantage, getting nine fly ball outs.

It was a bounce-back start for Prager, who last week against Oregon in super regionals gave up six runs on seven hits in 1.2 innings. That was his worst start of the season, and he turned it around with his best.

“Those first couple of days [after the start against Oregon], there was maybe some thinking, maybe a little bit of overthinking,” Prager said. “But really coming back to neutral and understanding that what I’ve done all year has led to some success and nothing really needs to change. There doesn’t have to be a drastic change.”

Prager has pitched well all season long, emerging as the Aggies’ ace. He is 9-1, 2.88 with 118 strikeouts and 20 walks in 93.2 innings. That performance has pushed him up draft boards, making him a projected second-round pick.

It’s been a critical development for A&M, which would not be at this stage, let alone 2-0 in the CWS, without him.

Jace Laviolette Exits With Hamstring Injury

2. For the third time in its last four games, A&M had to deal with an injury to a key player. Star outfielder Jace LaViolette apparently injured his right hamstring while running the bases in the sixth inning. He was looked at by the medical staff after advancing to third base and initially stayed in the game, even taking another at-bat when the Aggies batted around in the inning. But when the inning ended and A&M went out to play defense, he had been replaced.

“He tweaked his hamstring a little bit,” Schlossnagle said. “Thankfully we don’t play tomorrow. We have a little less than 48 hours to see if we can get him functional to do something on the field.”

LaViolette was replaced in the lineup by Jack Bell, who took over at second base. That created a cascading effect, moving Kaeden Kent to third base, Gavin Grahovac to left field and Caden Sorrell to right field.

A&M is suddenly dealing with a lot of injuries. All-American outfielder Braden Montgomery broke his ankle in the Aggies first game of super regionals against Oregon. Lefthander Shane Sdao left his start the next day after throwing just 11 pitches. DH Hayden Schott is also dealing with a knee injury, though he’s been able to play through it. Now, LaViolette is dealing with an injury.

“We only brought 13 position players,” Schlossnagle said. “It’s getting a little thin.”

Despite Mound Struggles, Jac Caglianone Delivers

3. The day didn’t start so well for Florida and Jac Caglianone. He struck out in the top of the first and then struggled through the bottom half of the inning on the mound. He hit a batter, walked two and gave up an RBI single.

Things turned around from there, however. He wriggled out of the jam with a strike out and a flyout. He then hit a three-run home run in the second inning to give Florida the lead, which it never relinquished.

Caglianone’s blast was a laser beam of a home run, coming off the bat at 116 mph and travelling 404 feet to the bleachers in right center field. It was his 34th home run of the season – breaking his own single-season program record – and his 74th career home run, which matched Matt LaPorta’s career program record.

“Mr. LaPorta has reached out countless times throughout the year,” Caglianone said. “He’s here with his kids and family, watching that. It was a special moment for sure.

“But at the end of the day, I was too caught up in trying to win keep staying here, surviving and advancing.”

The home run was also the first hit in the CWS by a pitcher since Auburn’s Tim Hudson did so in 1997. Caglianone was intentionally walked in two of his next three plate appearances Monday. He finished the game 1-for-3 and is now batting .414/.536/.862 with 33 home runs, 53 walks and 25 strikeouts.

On the mound, Caglianone was far from his best. His velocity was down – he’s typically capable of running his fastball into the upper 90s and on Monday it was mostly in the upper 80s – and he also didn’t have his best control. His velocity hasn’t been at its peak in his last few outings, but just last week at Clemson he threw 5.2 solid innings.

Coach Kevin O’Sullivan said he didn’t want to push Caglianone on the mound.

“It was pretty obvious he didn’t have his best stuff after the first,” O’Sullivan said. “And, honestly, he battled the last week against Clemson without his best stuff. I could just tell there’s a different look in his eyes a little bit.

“I didn’t want to push him today because I knew we were going to — didn’t look like it was going to be an offensive day because of the wind. We had Cade fresh, and that’s what we decided to do.”

Caglianone said it wasn’t a physical problem and he hopes to pitch again, though for that to happen Florida likely will have to navigate the loser’s bracket and advance to the CWS championship series.

Ryan Nicholson Ties Kentucky Record

4. In addition to breaking up Prager’s no-hitter, Nicholson homered in the ninth inning on a drive to right field. It was his 23rd home run of the season, matching the program’s single-season record. He joined Jeff Abbott (1994), John Wilson (1999) and AJ Reed (2014) with 23 home runs in a season.

Nicholson last summer came to Kentucky as a graduate transfer from Cincinnati, where he hit 33 home runs in four seasons (including 16 in 2023). He’s hitting .312/.412/.703 this season and has left his mark on his new program.

Putting NC State’s Season In Perspective

5. NC State was eliminated with the loss, ending its season. While the Wolfpack (38-23) went 0-2 in Omaha, it was still an impressive year for the team.

Longtime coach Elliott Avent led NC State back to the CWS for the second time in four years and this trip was extra meaningful for him after the way the trip in 2021 ended.

“It’s a hard place to get to,” he said. “It’s a great place to get to. It is hard to leave.”

NC State lost a pair of 5-4 games in the CWS, first in extra innings against Kentucky on Saturday and then on Monday to Florida. It wasn’t far off having a longer stay in Omaha but came up just a little short.

Now, the Wolfpack will have to reset a bit. Program fixtures like Logan Whittaker and Sam Highfill will move on. All-American catcher Jacob Cozart will be drafted in the top 50 picks. Infielders Alec Makarewicz and Garrett Pennington, who came into the program this year as graduate transfers, must be replaced.

As it looks to build the 2025 team, NC State will do so around some of its younger pitchers like Jacob Dudan (4-2, 4.50) and Cooper Consiglio (5-4, 4.97), who both impressed as freshmen. The lineup was older, and NC State is probably going to lose 1-4 in its Omaha lineup – center fielder Eli Serrano III, Pennington, Makarewicz and Cozart.

Recruiting coordinator Chris Hart always does a good job of finding hitters and he’ll need to do that this offseason. But with a solid core on the mound, NC State should be ready to again compete near the top of the ACC.

“It’s a good number of young arms coming back,” Avent said. “You have to have pitching to be successful, but obviously we’ll have to go home now, work very hard to fill a whole lot of holes to give us a chance in this conference next year.”

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