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Texas A&M builds big lead early and beats Tennessee 9-5 in Game 1 of College World Series finals

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Great start. Great finish.

And now, after beating Tennessee 9-5 in the College World Series finals opener Saturday night, Texas A&M faces its most difficult task of the season. The Aggies must knock off the high-powered No. 1 national seed one more time Sunday to claim their first national championship.

The Aggies (53-13) put themselves in position with Gavin Grahovac homering to begin the game, breaking it open with a five-run third inning and bringing in Evan Aschenbeck to pitch 2 2/3 innings of shutout relief to turn back a Tennessee offense that was starting to get cranked up.

“We all know what’s at stake,” Schlossnagle said. “There’s no Lombardi speech. We just try to keep them as loose as we can.”

Tennessee (58-13), trying to become the first No. 1 seed since 1999 to win the championship, will go into Sunday’s Game 2 having lost consecutive games just once this season and not since March 16-17 at Alabama.

“You find out different ways to respond, and you can either get frustrated that tonight went the way that it did, or you can get more determined,” Vols coach Tony Vitello said. “We’ve got guys that have done that a lot in the past where determination kicks up, play kicks up.”

The No. 3 Aggies capitalized on a couple errors that led to two runs — Tennessee has committed eight in four CWS games — and on the inability of pitchers Chris Stamos (3-1) and AJ Causey to consistently hit their spots.

Grahovac drove Stamos' 0-2 fastball out to right for the first leadoff homer in a CWS finals since Sam Fuld did it for Stanford against Rice in Game 2 in 2003.

Causey walked Jace LaViolette leading off the third, Jackson Appel's comebacker deflected off Causey's foot for a base hit and Hayden Schott followed with an RBI single to start the Aggies' five-run outburst.

Kaeden Kent, son of ex-major leaguer Jeff Kent, made it a seven-run game in the seventh with his homer into the right-field bullpen.

“Rounding the bases, I was able to take it in," Kent said. “The bullpen was going crazy. The fans were so loud; these fans are amazing. I love playing in front of these fans. They help us out so much and so much credit to them.”

Kent, who entered the starting lineup two weeks ago after star Braden Montgomery broke his ankle in the super regionals, finished with three hits and four RBIs.

The Vols, the nation's most prolific home-run hitting team in three decades, used the long ball to create some anxiety for the Aggies in the bottom of the seventh.

Dylan Dreiling's two-run shot to right ended the night for reliever Josh Stewart (2-2), and Hunter Ensley's high fly over the left-field fence off Brad Rudis made it 9-5. The Vols have 180 homers this season, eight behind LSU’s NCAA record set in 1997.

Ensley was the only batter Rudis faced. Aggies coach Jim Schlossnagle brought in Aschenbeck, and the left-hander retired six in a row before back-to-back singles put runners on the corners with one out in the ninth. The National Stopper of the Year struck out Ensley and Kavares Tears to end the game.

“It’s just something I’ve been doing all year, just kind of try to give my team the best chance to win,” Aschenbeck said. “That’s what pitchers are there for. Our job as a relief pitcher is to come in and pick up the guys in front of us. To come into that opportunity, it was awesome because the atmosphere was crazy.

"It’s the College World Series. Everything’s cool about it.”

The Vols were 2 of 13 with runners in scoring position, 2 of 11 with two outs and they left 10 runners on base.

“Even though we didn’t bring our best,” Vitello said, “we were within striking distance against their guy there at the end of the game.”

Aschenbeck accounted for seven of the Aggies' season high-tying 17 strikeouts. He has allowed just one earned run in his last nine appearances, spanning 25 2/3 innings.

“I’ve had some great relievers in the past, and he’s right up there with all of them,” Schlossnagle said. “You just know he’s going to control his heartbeat, No. 1. The moment’s never too big."

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AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports

Eric Olson, The Associated Press