SHARE

CWS Finals: 10 things to watch in Tennessee vs. Texas A&M

Columns

1. Texas A&M’s pitching staff

The Vols have been very offensive throughout this College World Series, but the great equalizer to a fantastic offense is an equally good or better pitching staff. And it’s hard to argue against what Max Weiner’s pitching staff has done in Omaha thus far. How impressive of a job have the Aggies done on the bump? A&M has a 1.00 ERA in three games (Tennessee is 4.67), while teams are hitting the Aggies at a .168 clip. I don’t expect those numbers to hold up to that degree against the Vols, but man, that’s impressive. 

Stopper of the Year winner Evan Aschenbeck lived up to his billing throwing 2.0 innings of hitless ball to lock down the win.

2. Tennessee’s top of the order

I absolutely love the entirety of the Tennessee batting order, but what makes this group extra special is just what they have at the top, with superstars Christian Moore and Blake Burke leading the charge, while Dylan Dreiling is on a heater in Omaha with a .500 average and four RBIs. There’s depth in this lineup, and when Moore, Burke, Amick and others get rolling, it’s like trying to slow down a freight train. As much as possible, the Aggies must try to slow Moore and Burke down. 

3. Tennessee’s outfield defense is a factor

We’ve documented it well that Tennessee’s defense has been a huge factor in a good way throughout this College World Series. Hunter Ensley got the ball rolling earlier this week when he made such a great play in deep center field that he left eye black on the outfield wall padding. Then, after shifting over to center field for a hobbled Ensley, Kavares Tears did almost the same thing a game later. This is an area where the Vols have a distinct advantage with Jace LaViolette gimpy from a hamstring issue. 

Amazingly, he was able to hold on despite the impact. He even had the wherewithal to check and see if the ball was in the glove as he was crumbling to the ground.

4. Texas A&M’s Ryan Prager

Unsurprisingly, the Aggies will start one of the premier lefthanded pitchers in college baseball in the series opener against the Vols.  I wrote about this earlier this week, but Prager struggled against Oregon two weekends ago before shining against Kentucky earlier this week. Prager could be a solid matchup against this Vols lineup — depending on the weather. If the wind is blowing in every so slightly, Prager matches up well with his ability to keep the breaking ball and changeup — his two best pitches — low in the strike zone.

Ryan Prager, Texas A&M (Eddie Kelly)

5. Texas A&M’s bullpen is fresh

The Aggies suffered a tough loss in the Super Regional round when talented lefthanded pitcher Shane Sdao went down with a season-ending arm injury. However, as I said leading up to the CWS, staying in the winner’s bracket allows you to be thin regarding the starting rotation. Now, the Aggie have to win two out of three games with a rested bullpen for the most part. Josh Stewart was nasty in relief against UF two nights ago, Chris Cortez only threw a few pitches out of the pen against the Gators, and Evan Aschenbeck has thrown in a couple of games but has somewhat of a bionic arm. That means the Aggies are fresh with Kaiden Wilson and others having yet to throw. 

Chris Cortez, A&M (Eddie Kelly)

6. Tennessee’s Drew Beam

Beam is still a premier arm and strong draft prospect, but some of his 2024 season didn’t go as planned in the dominance department. Beam had an ERA just north of four in SEC play, but what was interesting is that he didn’t miss a ton of bats in league play with just 51 strikeouts in 58.2 innings of work. Beam was average at best in his three starts before the College World Series. However, he was outstanding in his one start in this tourney, striking out seven and allowing just one run in five innings against North Carolina. At least in that start, it was more the vintage Drew Beam that I am used to. Can he emulate that performance against the Aggies the rest of the weekend? We’ll find out. 

Tennessee RHP Drew Beam (Photo by Mandy Sorenson)

7. Texas A&M’s injuries

Jim Schlossnagle mentioned this in the CWS Finals press conference, but there’s no doubt the Aggies are playing banged up in this series. Is that an excuse? Absolutely not. They are 3-0 in Omaha, so that’s out the window. But it is worth monitoring the health of guys like Jace LaViolette and Hayden Schott in this series. LaViolette tweaked his hamstring earlier in the CWS, so the two off days should’ve served as a Godsend to him. Schott is playing through a tweaked knee, but has been fantastic in the NCAA tourney. He’s also hitting .400 in the CWS after looking great in the Super Regional round. 

8. Tennessee’s Zander Sechrist

Assuming the Vols stick with a normal weekend rotation with the Chris Stamos/AJ Causey combination in game one followed by righthander Drew Beam in game two, that would set up lefty Zander Sechrist to throw the decisive series finale. I wrote about this earlier in the CWS, but Sechrist has been a pleasant surprise for the Vols this season. It’s not that UT pitching coach Frank Anderson thought he wasn’t capable, but it was more so how many innings he could throw for them in a given start. Sechrist was brilliant in his only start in Omaha thus far, allowing two runs on five hits in 6.1 innings against a premier Florida State offensive lineup. 

9. Can Kaeden Kent keep it up for A&M? 

When Braden Montgomery went down with a season-ending injury a couple of weeks ago, it made things difficult for the Aggies. They had to send second baseman Travis Chestnut to center field, and LaViolette moved over to right field. That left a vacancy at second base, and Kent, who had 70 at-bats entering the NCAA tourney, took over. Kent has been very good defensively, but what he has done offensively has been the surprise of the postseason thus far. Kent was great in the Oregon Super Regional, and he is hitting a team-high .455 during this Omaha run. 

That wouldn’t be all to his game on this day. Here Moore celebrates his first double of the day with a Christ pose.

10. The Christian Moore show

I’m saving the best for last in this piece. Keep an eye on Christian Moore throughout the CWS Finals. Moore was considered a clear-cut No. 2 behind Charlie Condon in the Player of the Year race coming into the College World Series, but he has been so good that it has caused me to do a double take. Moore hit for the cycle earlier in the CWS, and is hitting .571 with a home run and two RBIs in Omaha. That is insane. The key to the series could be keeping Moore from going too crazy at the plate. 

SHARE

FILED UNDER ,