We were sold a strength-on-strength matchup to decide the College World Series.

Tennessee was the team that had more home runs than any Division I team in the 21st century, and it was the first team ever to have 5 guys hit 20 home runs. The Vols were the No. 1 overall seed who averaged nearly 10 runs per contest in the postseason, including an average of 8.3 runs in 3 College World Series victories.

Texas A&M was the team that entered the CWS final ranked No. 3 in Division I in ERA having allowed just 1 earned run per game in 3 College World Series victories. The Aggies’ starting pitching staff entered the matchup against Tennessee rocking a streak of 14 2/3 consecutive innings, which didn’t include the work from the nation’s top reliever/leader in ERA, Evan Aschenbeck, who added 5 scoreless innings in Omaha … and then another 2 2/3 on Saturday.

Strength-on-strength, that was. But man, A&M did its best to make everyone forget that.

The Aggie arms flexed all night en route to a lopsided Game 1 victory against the Vols. A&M is a win away from its first College World Series title in program history.

Sure, Game 1 is by no means a dealbreaker. Five of the last 8 CWS winners failed to win Game 1. You can bet that Tony Vitello will remind his team of that trend. Shoot, Vitello can point to that stunning Game 2 loss to Evansville in the Super Regional. On the brink of what would’ve been an all-time exit in the NCAA Tournament, the Vols responded by winning the deciding Game 3 in a 12-1 beatdown.

With all due respect to Evansville, however, A&M is a different level of strong.

Jim Schlossnagle’s squad reminded everyone why his team hasn’t lost a postseason game yet. The Aggies’ last loss came a month ago against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, which was their lone matchup of the 2024 season.

That is, until Saturday. Like, when Ryan Prager continued to do ace things.

It won’t go down as a quality start, but his standout season finished with him getting into the 5th inning with 2 earned runs surrendered. Against Tennessee, that’s no small feat. He scattered 8 hits, but none of those were extra-base hits until a Blake Burke double in the 5th ultimately led to Jim Schlossnagle calling for Joshua Stewart to face the middle of the Tennessee order. After a walk, Stewart then got 2 strikeouts and a non-threatening ground out of Kavares Tears.

When you get to this point with a strength like A&M, you’ve learned how to work your way out of a jam.

It speaks to the strength of A&M that it, so far, successfully worked out of the jam of losing future first-round pick Braden Montgomery to a season-ending ankle injury in the Super Regional. Fittingly, his replacement has been a force.

The emergence of Kaeden Kent continued in a major way. The Super Regional hero, who hit that monumental grand slam in Game 2, had a 3-hit night, including a 2-run blast to balloon the A&M lead to 9-2.

Kent notched his 14th RBI of the NCAA Tournament and improved to 8-for-15 in the College World Series. Not too shabby.

Even with Kent’s hot bat, A&M didn’t exactly enter the CWS final with a bunch of offensive momentum. The Aggies hadn’t scored more than 6 runs in any of their 3 pre-CWS final victories.

Of course, they eclipsed that by the end of the 3rd inning on Saturday. It was probably a good omen that freshman Gavin Grahovic homered on an 0-2 count to lead off the game. That played right into A&M’s bread and butter. That is, get a lead, keep a lead. You can’t get a lead much quicker than that.

And sure, Tennessee eventually ate into that lead with a pair of home runs in the 7th inning to make it a 9-5 game. But that’s the luxury of having someone like Aschenbeck.

The best reliever in college baseball lived up to that billing and then some. Not only did Aschenbeck close the door on any notion of a late Tennessee rally — the Vols lead Division I with 29 comeback wins — but he did so by allowing just 1 runner to get in scoring position. The southpaw struck out 7, including red-hot Christian Moore, who capped off a rare 0-for-5 night.

Moore and the Tennessee bats will go back to the drawing board. Vitello won’t need to reinvent the wheel, but 17 strikeouts won’t fly in a weekday game against Towson, much less in a College World Series final.

As for A&M, well, Schlossnagle would take a repeat of that showing on Sunday afternoon. He already made history by getting the Aggies to the CWS final for the first time. Nine innings separate his squad from college baseball immortality.

Before Kent could step off the field on Saturday night, he got the postgame interview from ESPN’s Kris Budden, who asked him a question that’ll be on the minds of plenty of Aggie fans.

“How are you gonna sleep tonight?”

“I may not,” Kent admitted. “We’re gonna celebrate for a little bit right now and I’m sure (Schlossnagle) will say that we’ve got 1 more to go. And we do.”