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HomeSportsTexas A&M robs homer in ninth, tops Florida in MCWS thriller

Texas A&M robs homer in ninth, tops Florida in MCWS thriller

OMAHA, Neb. — Jace LaViolette robbed Cade Kurland of a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning, Justin Lamkin and two relievers struck out 16, and Texas A&M held off Florida 3-2 in a weather-delayed Men’s College World Series opener that ended early Sunday.

The Aggies (50-13) will play Kentucky on Monday night in a Bracket 2 winners’ game. The Gators (34-29), the national runner-up to LSU last year, will meet NC State in a Monday afternoon elimination game.

Texas A&M scored its runs in the first three innings against Liam Peterson (3-5), the first freshman to start a MCWS opener for Florida, and then relied on Lamkin, Chris Cortez (10-3) and Evan Aschenbeck to hold down the Gators’ high-powered offense.

Florida had come from behind in four of its six NCAA tournament wins and nearly did it again.

Down a run in the eighth, the Gators loaded the bases with two outs against Aschenbeck. The left-hander, named Stopper of the Year as the nation’s top closer, got out of the inning when second baseman Kaeden Kent gloved Dale Thomas’ slow roller and got his underhand flip to first baseman Ted Burton in time for the third out.

In the ninth, Michael Robertson reached with one out before Kurland sent a fly deep to right-center. With his back against the fence, LaViolette reached above it to make the catch. Aschenbeck walked All-America slugger Jac Caglianone before getting his 10th save with a strikeout of Ashton Wilson.

“Super awesome game, and I told Jace I’m really happy he’s tall,” Aggies coach Jim Schlossnagle said.

The wind was blowing in at 14 mph at the start of the game, which was delayed 4 hours, 7 minutes because of rain and lightning. The wind gusted over 25 mph in the afternoon before calming down after storms moved through.

“I got a total wrong read off the bat, I’m not going to lie,” LaViolette said. “I looked up and thought this might be a homer, and my heart dropped for a second and then I was at the wall. I give a little credit to the wind. This ballpark plays a lot bigger than what it is, and the wind knocked it down a little bit. It was a real cool play.”

Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said he thought the ball was out, mostly based on Kurland’s reaction.

“He thought he got it. I thought he got it. Right fielder made a heck of a play,” O’Sullivan said.

Schlossnagle took a calculated risk starting Lamkin and saving fellow left-hander and season-long No. 1 pitcher Ryan Prager for the Aggies’ game Monday. The Aggies are short of starters after a season-ending arm injury to Shane Sdao in last week’s super regional against Oregon.

Lamkin had been in the weekend rotation until the final regular-season series, but he struggled in his previous two starts. In the past month, Lamkin’s only outing was a nine-pitch relief appearance against Louisiana in the regionals.

Schlossnagle needed Lamkin to give him a few innings and then turn the game over to Cortez and his 100 mph fastball. Lamkin did his part, allowing one baserunner and striking out six in three innings.

The Aggies scored on Travis Chestnut’s bases-loaded infield single and a wild pitch in the second and on Caden Sorrell’s double in the third.

Cortez kept Florida scoreless when the Gators threatened in the fourth and sixth, but they broke through in the seventh on back-to-back doubles by Tyler Shelnut and Thomas. Aschenbeck came on to face Michael Robertson, whose RBI groundout cut the Aggies’ lead to 3-2.

The eighth and ninth inning turned out to be much more stressful for Aschenbeck and the rest of the Aggies.

“Evan had to make really good pitches to get out of it,” Schlossnagle said. “Really good [opponent], playing in the College World Series with your season on the line, we trust Evan. You’re going to ride or die with your best.”

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