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Texas A&M's Ryan Prager holds Kentucky without hit into 7th inning in 5-1 College World Series win

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Texas A&M scored all of its runs in the sixth inning, Ryan Prager held Kentucky hitless into the seventh and the Aggies are off to their best start in a College World Series after their 5-1 win Monday night.

The Aggies (51-13) are 2-0 in the CWS for the first time in eight all-time appearances and have taken control of Bracket 2. They’ll await the winner of a Tuesday elimination game between Florida and Kentucky (46-15) in the bracket final Wednesday. They would have to lose twice to be kept out of the best-of-three finals.

“First two games we've been here, it's about how we drew it up,” Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle said.

Prager (9-1), the season-long No. 1 pitcher for A&M, wiggled out of trouble twice before Ryan Nicholson lined the ball over second base for the Wildcats' first hit with two outs in the seventh. Nolan McCarthy followed with a double, putting runners on the corners, and then reliever Josh Stewart came on to finish the game.

“Prager, what an outing. What a time to throw a game like that,” Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said. “He kept us off balance. We had some opportunities and did not cash in. In a game like this, all those opportunities matter. The big inning is just about maybe the biggest factor in whether you win or lose in college baseball. They were able to get one.”

Prager, rocked for six runs in 1 2/3 innings in his super-regional start against Oregon, threw only 10 pitches in a 1-2-3 first inning against the Wildcats, and he retired 13 in a row from the second to sixth inning. The sophomore left-hander walked one, hit a batter and struck out four.

“After last week, as soon as I came out there was some frustration, but that went away pretty quick,” he said. “I did some thinking, maybe over-thinking, but I came back to neutral and had an understanding of what I've done all year. I realized there doesn't have to be a drastic change in what I was doing.”

The last time Prager pitched at Charles Schwab Field was at the 2022 CWS. He started the Aggies' final game against Oklahoma and lasted just 2 1/3 innings. Then he missed the 2023 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

“Just super grateful to be back,” he said. “Last time we were here I left with a sour taste in my mouth.”

Not everything went smoothly in his return.

He needed A&M catcher Jackson Appel's huge play with two outs in the second when James McCoy bunted to the left side with Nick Lopez heading home from third. Appel ran down the ball and fired to first to get McCoy on a close play upheld on review.

The Wildcats had two runners on with one out in the sixth after a walk and error. Prager got out of the inning when Kaeden Kent fielded Devin Burkes’ sharp grounder down the third-base line, tagged the bag and threw to first for an inning-ending double play.

Texas A&M scored five times in the sixth to take control. Jace LaViolette walked leading off against Mason Moore (9-4), Appel doubled into the right-field corner and both came home on Hayden Schott’s single into left field. Cameron O’Brien came on in relief and gave up an RBI double to Ali Camarillo and a two-run single to Kent.

Kentucky ended the Aggies' bid for a nation-leading 12th shutout when Nicholson homered with one out in the ninth.

The only down side for the Aggies was an injury to LaViolette, who tweaked his hamstring running the bases in the sixth. LaViolette leads the Aggies with 28 homers and 77 RBIs, and he was the hero of their CWS-opening win over Florida when his catch at the fence robbed the Gators of a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning. Schlossnagle said he was hopeful LaViolette could play Wednesday.

Texas A&M already lost projected top-five draft pick Braden Montgomery to a broken ankle and starting pitcher Shane Sdao to an arm injury in super regionals.

“Last two weeks we've been losing players left and right, but it gives other guys an opportunity," Schlossnagle said. “Hopefully we can make a good story.”

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

Eric Olson, The Associated Press