Tennessee makes first College World Series since 2005 with sweep over LSU

Sports

Tennessee outfielder Evan Russell (6) is congratulated by teammates after hitting a home run during an NCAA college baseball super regional game against LSU Sunday, June 13, 2021, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 15-6 to advance. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – North Carolina State and Tennessee locked up spots in the College World Series on Sunday, with the Wolfpack knocking out No. 1 national seed Arkansas.

Two days after losing its NCAA super regional opener by 19 runs, Jose Torres hit a tiebreaking home run in the top of the ninth inning off SEC pitcher of the year Kevin Kopps and NC State beat the Razorbacks 3-2 in the deciding Game 3.

Tennessee completed a two-game sweep of LSU with a 15-6 win. Virginia beat Dallas Baptist 4-0 and Notre Dame defeated Mississippi State 9-1 to force deciding third games Monday.

No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 9 Stanford were the first teams to claim spots in the CWS, closing out super regional sweeps Saturday.

This marks the 21st straight NCAA Tournament that the No. 1 seed will not win the national title. It’s the eighth time since the tournament went to its current format in 1999 that the top seed hasn’t made it to the CWS

Arkansas (51-13) had been the consensus No. 1 team in the polls most of the season, and it hadn’t lost a best-of-three series since May 2019.

But NC State (35-18), which lost 21-2 on Friday, held down the Razorbacks’ potent offense while winning two straight one-run games in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Two pitchers held the Hogs to four hits in a 6-5 win Saturday, and three pitchers combined to limit them to four hits again Sunday.

Torres homered in all three games for the Wolfpack, who opened 1-8 in Atlantic Coast Conference play and 4-9 overall. They made it to the ACC Tournament final and were a No. 2 regional seed in Ruston, Louisiana, where they swept three games by a combined 30-11.

“They’re a really good group of players and committed to one another,” coach Elliott Avent said. “They’ve been together and lived together four years now, and when you live together, go to class together, study together and do all the social things, you become bonded.

“They believed early on when we were 1-8 that we could rebound, and they stuck with it.”

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn made a surprising move when he gave Kopps his first start of the season Sunday. Kopps had worked long, middle and short relief for the Hogs this season and hadn’t allowed a run in 15 1/3 innings in regionals and super regionals.

Kopps allowed Jonny Butler’s two-run homer and six other hits before giving up Torres’ ninth-inning homer with his 118th pitch. Kopps threw 324 pitches in 23 1/3 innings over five appearances in 10 days.

No. 3 national seed Tennessee (50-16) will head to the CWS for the first time since 2005. Tony Vitello has established a strong bond with fans since he was hired four years ago, and the excitement level around his program is unprecedented. Fans who weren’t among the 4,400 inside Lindsay Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, this weekend were invited to a watch party outside the fence.

“I wanted to get this thing to where people were proud of it,” Vitello said. “The crowd here and the people on the street speaks volumes to where it’s at.”

After hitting no home runs in its 4-2 win Saturday, Tennessee continued its late-season power surge. Jake Rucker went deep twice, and the Vols matched their season high with six homers, increasing their NCAA Tournament total to 16 in five games.

Virginia’s Griff McGarry struck out 10 in seven innings and combined with Brandon Neeck and Kyle Whitten on the four-hit shutout in Columbia, South Carolina. The Cavaliers (34-25) scored all their runs in the eighth inning against the Patriots (41-17), with Zack Gelof leading off with a homer and Alex Tappen hitting a three-run homer.

David LaManna’s three-run homer in the fourth inning broke open the game for Notre Dame (34-12). Aidan Tyrell held host Mississippi State (44-16) to one run on five hits in 7 1/3 innings.

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