2024 College World Series Finals Preview: Tennessee vs. Texas A&M

college world series finals

Two powerhouses meet in the College World Series finals — No. 1 Tennessee and No. 3 Texas A&M. The two SEC schools have combined to go 110-25 on the year and both breezed through their respective brackets in Omaha, winning three games apiece. Both are looking for their first-ever national championship and are manned by two of the sport’s top coaches in Tony Vitello and Jim Schlossnagle.

The schedule is as follows:
Game 1 — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Game 2 — Sunday, 2 p.m. ET on ABC
Game 3 (if necessary) — Monday, 6 p.m. ET on ESPN

Let’s tackle these two teams, position-by-position.

college world series finals

Tennessee: Cal Stark (.213/.350/.512, 10 HR)
Texas A&M: Jackson Appel (.321/.420/.531, 10 HR)

Appel has spent much of the year in the cleanup spot, moving recently to third with Braden Montgomery’s injury. He’s been a major contributor to the Aggies’ offensive success, hitting .321 with 10 home runs, 15 doubles, and 40 RBIs. He’s swiped 14 bases for good measure, too. Stark has entrenched himself behind the dish for the Volunteers, though, thanks to above-average defense. His cause was also helped due to struggles offensively from Cannon Peebles (.728 OPS in 111 ABs) as the NC State transfer had drawn most of the starts to open the year.

First Base
Tennessee: Blake Burke (.382/.455/.713, 20 HR)
Texas A&M: Ted Burton (.292/.452/.500, 9 HR)

Burton arrived from Michigan having played much of his career at second base, but has slid over into the first base spot and has started 51 of 65 games there for the Aggies. He’s hitting fifth in the Aggies’ lineup and has a fantastic eye, with 50 walks to 50 strikeouts. On the other side, Burke has been one of the more dangerous hitters in the nation throughout the year. Hitting second behind Christian Moore, Burke has clubbed 20 home runs and 28 doubles on the year. Burke is 14-for-25 (.560) from Super Regionals on with three home runs and a team-high 10 RBIs.

Second Base
Tennessee: Christian Moore (.385/.460/.816, 33 HR)
Texas A&M: Kaeden Kent (.320/.417/.474, 3 HR in 97 AB)

Moore has a case for being the best player in the country, particularly with how well he’s seen the ball in Omaha. Facing him to open a game and then dealing with the heart of the Volunteers’ order is no small task. He won the SEC Triple Crown (stats in conference games) and hasn’t slowed down in the postseason. It’s worth giving some praise to his Aggie counterpart, Kent, who had scattered playing time throughout the year but has thrived since injuries saw his return to the lineup. Montgomery’s injury forced Travis Chestnut to vacate second and move to the outfield, leading to Kent slotting into the eight-hole. He’s been everything Schlossnagle could’ve asked from him —in seven games over the last month, Kent leads the team with a .417 average (10-for-24) with 10 RBIs.

Tennessee: Dean Curley (.273/.488/.498, 12 HR)
Texas A&M: Ali Camarillo (.293/.388/.444, 7 HR)

Like third base below, Camarillo and Curley stack up pretty similarly. They’re both slotted in at seventh in their respective lineups and hit for a solid average. The definition of everyday players, the duo has combined to start 118 games this season. Camarillo, a transfer from Cal State Northridge, has started every game. Curley, who has a bit more pop, slid into the shortstop role after Moore moved to second in place of Bradke Lohry after the start of the year.

Third Base
Tennessee: Billy Amick (.313/.395/.663, 23 HR)
Texas A&M: Gavin Grahovac (.303/.398/.601, 22 HR)

Two fantastic players man the hot corner for these teams — nearly matching in average and home runs, with Amick having the edge in both. The biggest difference in these two — who also have practically the same number of doubles and RBIs — is swing-and-miss. Grahovac has fanned 90 times this year while Amick is roughly half that (48). Amick has avoided strikeouts effectively in his collegiate career (32 in 192 PAs as a sophomore at Clemson), while that’s something Grahovac will undoubtedly improve on in the years to come. Grahovac’s freshman year has been fantastic overall — he leads the team in hits (78) and is second in doubles (14) and third in home runs (22).

Tennessee: Dylan Dreiling (.329/.455/.679, 20 HR), Kavares Tears (.329/.440/.662, 20 HR), Hunter Ensley (.286/.387/.522, 11 HR)
Texas A&M: Caden Sorrell (.266/.374/.562, 11 HR), Travis Chestnut (.260/.453/.420, 3 HR in 100 ABs), Jace LaViolette (.306/.456/.734, 28 HR)

For the Aggies: It’s a shame that Braden Montgomery, the star right fielder for the Aggies, went down in regionals with a season-ending ankle injury. Montgomery had a fantastic season after transferring in from Stanford — who he appeared in Omaha the last two seasons for — and was a dangerous bat in the middle of the order. The resulting shuffling has seen Chestnut move to center field from second base, which moved Laviolette over to right field. Sorrell has been the left fielder in the Aggies’ lineup since late March.

LaViolette has been a force, pacing the team with a 1.190 OPS, 28 home runs, and 77 RBIs. He’s just 1-for-9 in three College World Series games, though, so could be due for a breakout. Sorrell, meanwhile, has been a breakout star as a freshman. He’s hitting sixth and posted a .936 OPS with 11 home runs, seven doubles, and five triples. Finally, it’s been a shaky offensive stretch for Chestnut as he’s drawn nine walks in his last 10 games to help his on-base percentage, but is just 3-for-25 at the plate over that span.

By and large, Tennessee’s outfield has been solidified with the trio of Dreiling, Ensley, and Tears. There was some shuffling the last game due to injury, but that group has been entrenched in the 4-5-6 spots in the lineup. Dreiling is 6-for-13 in Omaha with four RBIs, Tears has four extra base hits and six RBIs, and Ensley is just 2-for-11 but has played fantastic defense. It’s a great trio both offensively and defensively — as evidenced by the highlight reel plays from the past week.

Designated Hitter
Tennessee: Reese Chapman (.276/.406/.524, 7 HR) or Dalton Bargo (.286/.380/.562, 8 HR in 105 ABs)
Texas A&M: Hayden Schott (.333/.426/.502, 8 HR)

Tennessee has shuffled around its outfield and designated hitter spot during its run, the latest switch the result of a particularly hard collision at the center field wall for Ensley. Depending on matchups, you could see Chapman or Bargo in the DH role. Bargo has had some success in in his 40-plus games: He has eight home runs and five doubles in just over 100 at bats. Chapman has seven home runs as well as part of the seemingly unlimited power supply for the Volunteers.

Texas A&M, meanwhile, has an established designated hitter — and one that has hit the cover off the ball lately. Schott is 4-for-10 in Omaha and over the last month (10 games), he’s hitting .368 with two home runs and a team-high 11 RBIs.

Starting Pitching
Tennessee: 258.2 IP, 270:77 K/BB, 4.31 ERA, 1.26 WHIP (season stats)

Chris Stamos (3-0, 4.26 ERA, 9.9 K/9) & AJ Causey (13-3, 4.21 ERA, 12.3 K/9)
Drew Beam (9-2, 4.30 ERA, 8.4 K/9)
○ Zander Sechrist (5-1, 3.22 ERA, 8.5 K/9)

Texas A&M: 250.1 IP, 297:82 K/BB, 4.13 ERA, 1.26 WHIP (season stats)

Ryan Prager (9-1, 2.88 ERA, 11.3 K/9)
Justin Lamkin (3-2, 5.00 ERA, 12.3 K/9)
TBD | Tanner Jones (3-1, 6.33 ERA, 8.8 K/9)

Tennessee’s best starter as of late has been its Sunday guy in Sechrist. He’s preceded by the tandem duo of Stamos and Causey, followed by Beam. Stamos has had a short, short hook this postseason — his outings have been just one out twice and four outs the other time. That first game will be interesting as a result, seeing as Causey got hit pretty hard by Florida State.

Beam had tough outings against Indiana and Evansville by his standards — and against Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament — but was great against North Carolina. He went five innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts, providing a start to build off of. Sechrist is on a fantastic run: After three runs in four-plus innings against Southern Miss, he responded with six innings of one-run ball against Evansville and pitched into the seventh versus Florida State.

On the other side, the Aggies lost a key piece in Shane Sdao against Oregon in Super Regionals — a tough blow — but used Lamkin twice and a great start from Prager to cruise through to the finals. Prager is arguably the best starter remaining — he has 118 strikeouts in 93-plus innings with a 1.01 WHIP. Lamkin hadn’t pitched much but was excellent in eight combined innings against Florida. After those two, Tanner Jones (12 starts) seems the most likely to draw a start despite shaky results.

Tennessee: 3361 IP, 393:124 K/BB, 3.51 ERA, 1.21 WHIP (season stats)

○ Kirby Connell (47.2 IP, 3.78 ERA, 8.8 K.9)
○ Nate Snead (72.2 IP, 3.10 ERA, 7.4 K/9)
○ Aaron Combs (40.2 IP, 3.78 ERA, 12.8 K/9)

Texas A&M: 315.2 IP, 383:126 K/BB, 3.62 ERA, 1.23 WHIP (season stats)

○ Chris Cortez (60.1 IP, 2.98 ERA, 14.2 K/9)
○ Evan Aschenbeck (70 IP, 1.54 ERA, 9.9 K/9)
○ Josh Stewart (27 IP, 4.33 ERA, 11.3 K/9)

Perhaps the best matchup between these two teams will be the bullpens. It doesn’t get much better than the collection of arms that both coaches can deploy: The two teams finished No. 2 and No. 3 in all of baseball in bullpen ERA, trailing only Hawaii.

The Volunteers have given Connell the ball in each of the last six games, while Snead’s appeared in the last five. These aren’t short outings either: Connell has gone five-plus outs in three of them, while Snead has logged four-plus outs in three of his. Combs has 51 strikeouts in 36 innings, while Andre Behnke (24.2 IP, 2.92 ERA) is another key piece.

The Aggies have a 1-2 punch of Cortez and Aschenbeck to close out games — it’s not easy for opposing hitters. Cortez has piled up 10 wins, remarkable for a reliever, and averages over 14 strikeouts per nine while Aschenbeck has seven saves and a sub-1.00 WHIP. Stewart pitched two-plus innings in the Aggies’ last two games and has walked just six in 27 innings.

Featured Image via Texas A&M and Tennessee Athletics