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Can Tennessee shake history and take home College World Series title?

NEWS SENTINEL / USA TODAY NETWORK
                                Tennessee’s Dean Curley loses the ball for the error during the Knoxville Super Regional on Sunday.
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NEWS SENTINEL / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tennessee’s Dean Curley loses the ball for the error during the Knoxville Super Regional on Sunday.

Being the No. 1 overall national seed hasn’t been the path to winning a College World Series title.

The drought dates back to 1999 when Miami won the crown. Now Tennessee takes its swipe at surviving under the favorite’s role when the eight-team CWS comprised solely of SEC and ACC programs begins Friday at Omaha, Neb.

The Volunteers (55-12) open play against No. 8 Florida State on Friday night. Coach Tony Vitello isn’t the least bit concerned about the long pattern of No. 1 seeds falling short.

“First of all, it’s difficult to get here,” Vitello said after today’s workout. “And once you’re here, it’s even more difficult to win and part of that is the talent that’s here. The seeding to me kind of evaporates (after the opening week of regionals).”

Tennessee has big-time stars in first baseman Blake Burke (.376 average, 19 homers and 56 RBIs) and second baseman Christian Moore (.375-32-71). Moore has belted the most homers in a season in Volunteers history.

The Seminoles (47-15) are led by outfielder James Tibbs III (.374-28-94) and right-hander Jamie Arnold (11-3, 2.77 ERA).

Tennessee is joined in the CWS by three other SEC programs (No. 2 Kentucky, No. 3 Texas A&M and unseeded Florida). In addition to Florida State, the other ACC teams are No. 4 North Carolina, No. 10 North Carolina State and No. 12 Virginia.

The Tar Heels (47-14) and Cavaliers (46-15) face each other in Friday’s opening game. North Carolina coach Scott Forbes said he takes pride in the ACC having half the teams of this year’s field.

“I felt like this year out of all my years being involved in the ACC, and I have been involved in them a while now, top to bottom it was the best,” said Forbes, a fourth-year head coach who is in his 23th overall season with the Tar Heels. “If you didn’t play well, you would lose. I think some really good ACC teams didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament.”

Center fielder Vance Honeycutt has smacked a school-record 26 homers for North Carolina. Left-hander Evan Blanco (8-3, 3.69) will start for Virginia. He gave up two runs and six hits over 6 1/3 innings and earned the victory during a 7-2 win in an April series when the host Cavaliers took two of three from the Tar Heels.

On Saturday, NC State faces Kentucky and Florida meets Texas A&M in that quartet’s opening games of the double-elimination CWS.

The Gators (34-28) weren’t looking like a team that would be playing in June while struggling in the regular season. But they upset No. 6 Clemson in the Super Regional and are looking to make more noise in Omaha.

“We never lost faith in our team,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We just weren’t very consistent. At some point, when you do get in the tournament, everybody starts with a clean slate.”

The Gators are led by first baseman/pitcher Jac Caglianone, who set an NCAA record by homering in nine consecutive games. Caglianone has tied the school mark of 33 homers he belted last season. On the mound, the left-hander is 5-2 with a 4.71 ERA.

Texas A&M (49-13) boasts big-hitting outfielders Jace LaViolette (.314-28-77) and Braden Montgomery (.322-27-85). The Aggies lost two of three against the host Gators in mid-March.

Kentucky (45-14) is in the CWS for the first time in school history. The Wildcats tied the school record for victories (2012) despite having just two players in double digits in homers — first baseman Ryan Nicholson (21) and outfielder Ryan Waldschmidt (14).

“If the people of Omaha are looking for a team to root for, this is your team,” Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said. “We’re first-timers, we want to have a great experience, we want to be lifted up.”

NC State (38-21) is in the CWS for the first time since 2013 and is led by third baseman Alec Makarewicz (.380-22-80).

The best-of-three finals begin June 22.

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