Tennessee beats Florida State 7-2 to become first No. 1 national seed since 2009 to reach CWS finals

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Tennessee fell flat in its two previous College World Series appearances and in between there was the crushing loss in NCAA super regionals as the No. 1 national seed.

All that has led to this year's Volunteers putting themselves in position to play for the program's first national title beginning Saturday.

Tennessee is heading to the CWS finals for the first time in the modern era after it knocked out Florida State with a 7-2 victory on Wednesday to win its bracket.

Zander Sechrist held the Seminoles (49-17) scoreless for six innings and the Volunteers struck for four early runs to become the first No. 1 national seed since 2009 to advance to the best-of-three finals.

“We always say before something happens, something happens,” coach Tony Vitello said. “There’s been a lot of build-up 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's win assured an all-SEC finals for the second straight year and third time in four. The Volunteers (58-12) will play Texas A&M (52-13).

The Southeastern Conference has had at least one team in the finals 15 of the last 16 years. Seven different SEC teams have made it since 2009. The fact Tennessee hadn't been among them had become more frustrating on Rocky Top in recent years. The Vols' 209 victories and 559 home runs since the start of the 2021 season are the most of any Division I program, after all.

Tennessee made it to a one-game final in its first CWS appearance in 1951, losing 3-2 to Oklahoma. In those days, there were no preliminary rounds in the NCAA Tournament; teams were selected for the CWS based on regular-season performance.

The Vols broke through under Vitello after winning a combined one of five games in trips to Omaha in 2021 and 2023. In 2022, they lost a three-game super regional to Notre Dame team at home.

“That’s a good team in the other dugout, clearly,” said second-year FSU coach Link Jarrett, who coached the Notre Dame team that knocked out the Vols two years ago. “Well-constructed, variety of arms, physical offensively, dynamic, athletic. They made some exceptional plays. You could basically go around the diamond and make note of the exceptional plays they made.”

FSU freshman John Abraham (5-2) was making his first start since April 9 and third of the season. He struggled with his control and faced only five batters before getting pulled with one out.

Tennessee was up 4-0 when Burke singled in a run in the second and he finished the scoring in the ninth when he hit his 20th home run of the season. That made the Vols the first team in Division I history to have five players with at least 20 homers. They have a nation-leading 178, nine behind the Division I record set by LSU in 1997.

Burke got a couple fastballs, a changeup and a surprise slider from Conner Whittaker.

“It was nasty, a back-foot slider. I told him, ‘Good pitch,’" Burke said. “I did that just so I could get it again because I knew it was coming. I fouled a fastball off and I kind of knew that pitch was coming. I was prepared for it. I got my barrel on it.”

Sechrist (5-1) came into the game 3-0 in his previous four starts with an 0.78 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 23 innings. His scoreless streak in the NCAA Tournament ended at 17 1/3 innings when Daniel Cantu and Alex Lodise hit back-to-back homers in the seventh.

In a CWS marked by jaw-dropping defensive plays, Tennessee's Kavares Tears made one equal to teammate Hunter Ensley's against North Carolina on Sunday.

Tears chased down Marco Dinges' deep drive to right center to end the first inning, catching the ball while crashing into the wall, his sunglasses and hat flying off.

Tears, the Vols' regular right fielder, made his first start in center since April 23 because Ensley suffered a lower-body injury when he caught Anthony Donofrio's deep fly to center just before he ran into the wall. Ensley was the designated hitter against the Seminoles. and went 1 for 4.

“K.T.’s catch set the tone, especially in the first inning,” Sechrist said. “I know our offense scored in the top of the first, but he set the tone right there.”


AP college sports:

Eric Olson, The Associated Press