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OMAHA, Neb. — Alex Cejka has had no trouble adjusting to professional golf’s 50-and-over division.The PGA Tour Champions newcomer already has wins in two senior majors and will go for a third this week in the U.S. Senior Open at Omaha Country Club.“He’s got one of the best golf swings out here, and when he gets the putter going, you’d better watch out. He’s already proved that,” said Bernhard Langer, who has won a record 11 senior majors. “He’s made an immediate impact. Just about every time he teed up, he had a chance to win, and he’s already won twice.”Cejka tied for second in the Chubb Classic in Naples, Florida, in his second start on the senior tour and followed that with back-to-back wins in majors in May. He won a playoff against Steve Stricker in the Regions Tradition at Greystone in Hoover, Alabama, and three weeks later won the Senior PGA Championship by four shots at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.“My driving was phenomenal,” Cejka said. “I hit a lot of drives, and I hit them long and straight, and that was the key why I did so well.”Cejka has struggled with his driving accuracy in his last three tournaments and will need to get it back if he’s going to contend at Omaha Country Club.OCC is set on what once was rolling farmland on the north edge of the city and was the site of the 2013 Senior Open. The Perry Maxwell course challenges players with uneven and sidehill lies and undulating greens. The course was lengthened from 6,657 yards to 6,891 during a 2018 renovation.“It’s narrow,” Cejka said. “The rough is brutal, so you’ve got to really drive it well.”Rocco Mediate, who finished third here in 2013, said the rough is “evil” and the layout is “brutally hard to walk,” especially in the heat. Temperatures were in the upper 90s here eight years ago. The forecast is more favorable this time, with highs forecast for the mid-80s Thursday, mid-90s Friday, and the upper 70s on the weekend.The field includes 16 players who won a total of 26 majors before joining the senior tour. Among them playing in the Senior Open for the first time are Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Jose Maria Olazabal, Rich Beem and Mike Weir.Stricker, the 2019 champion, is not playing in Omaha. He’s on the regular PGA Tour this week at the John Deere Classic, an event he’s won three times. There was no U.S. Senior Open last year because of the pandemic.Kenny Perry won by five strokes over Fred Funk at OCC in 2013, shooting 64 and 63 on the weekend to finish 13 under. The 60-year-old Perry, who also won the Senior Open in 2017, has only two top-10 finishes in 22 events this year.Cejka is looking to become the first player to win three senior majors in the same season since Langer in 2017. He was born in the Czech Republic but fled the country with his father at age 9 and settled in Munich, Germany.Cejka grew up idolizing Langer, turned pro in 1989, and has won on six different tours, with his only PGA Tour victory coming in the 2015 Puerto Rico Open. He and his wife, Alyssa, live in Las Vegas and travel to many tournaments in a recreational vehicle.“I love it. Luckily, my wife likes it, too, and that’s a big factor if you have your spouse kind of liking the same lifestyle,” Cejka said. “We don’t do it every week, but it’s great, especially here, being literally right in the parking lot, 50 yards from the driving range and the pitching green. I should have no excuses after the end of the week.”———More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports
The companies that will connect college athletes with endorsement deals are ready. State laws are set, and where they’re not, the NCAA has given the green light.It is go time for college athletes across the country who want to cash in on their celebrity and fame.Just how much of a market there might be for so-called “name, image and likeness” compensation is unknown, but the next few months will say a lot.Even before Thursday’s grand opening — when a dozen state laws take effect allowing NIL deals without fear of NCAA rules violations — the jostling had begun:In Nebraska, fast food chain Runza offered “compliant payment opportunities” to college athletes willing to promote an app to their social media followers. Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz unveiled his own personal logo. DePaul announced an “entrepreneurship and brand development program” for athletes eager to cash in on NIL — even without an Illinois law in place at the time.Opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence, whose company works with dozens of schools on NIL programming and education and provides a service connecting athletes with endorsements (including Runza’s), said the change will be eye-opening.“What I’m most excited about,” Lawrence said, “is that everyone is underestimating how deep and wide the opportunities are going to be in terms of athletes getting NIL opportunities on Day 1 and Day 101.”Rick Karcher, associate professor of the sports management program at Eastern Michigan, said it is too early to predict what the market will be like for everyone from star quarterbacks to a Division III golfer.“Economic theory would tell you that there’s a limited pie of money that’s going to spent,” he said. “There’s only so much money that’s going to be spent on college athletes in terms of endorsements. They’ll be competing for that money.”Michael Rueda, head of U.S. sports and entertainment for the Withersworldwide law firm, predicted a flurry of initial activity.“It’s going to be a bit of chaos,” he said.Gopuff, a consumer goods and food delivery service operating in 650 cities, is offering athletes in any NCAA division a chance to make some money right away. An athlete with the Opendorse app will receive a pitch to promote the Gopuff brand on social media. Gopuff declined to disclose how much a participating athlete will be paid.“Beyond the biggest stars and household names, there are countless student-athletes across the country who are pillars of their communities and appeal to broad, devoted fan bases,” said Marshall Osborne, Gopuff’s head of business development.Platforms such as Opendorse and INFLCR make money off transaction fees and through NIL education programs, brand-building and compliance services they provide universities. At least 23 Power Five schools that responded to an Associated Press survey in May had contracts with those service providers. More schools have announced deals since.Rueda said there is a wide variance when it comes to NIL preparedness for schools and athletes. Some are more than ready to jump right in.“Over the course of doing this for many years, my client tends to get younger and they are very savvy and proactive,” Rueda said. “The ability to monetize yourself, the ability to build a brand, student-athletes of this generation are ready.”But the nitty gritty of making a deal can be cumbersome, and he said athletes need professional guidance to navigate the fine print of contracts that could include, among other things, no-compete clauses barring them from promoting similar brands, morals clauses and copyright language.Rueda said schools, if they aren’t already doing it, need to teach their athletes how to protect their rights and recognize and avoid bad deals.“Some of the small deals are dictated by legal documents,” he said. “There are clauses in there that can trip you up, and you have to be aware of at least what it means. You may not be able to sort of dissect the nuances, but you have to understand what the impact is because brands are savvy enough to stick that stuff in there.”Karcher remains uncertain on how much the rank-and-file college athletes stand to gain — beyond the right to make money off NIL. Most experts believe athletes stand to earn hundreds of dollars, not hundreds of thousands.Karcher said in many cases, the athlete will be the one pursuing opportunities with brands, not the other way around.“If an athlete can say I’m going to make 500 bucks a year, is it worth all the time and thought and effort trying to get it?” Karcher saidAs for the well-known college athletes or those with a large social-media presence and a strong desire to build their brands, they might make some money.“But I don’t know how you can predict today what they’re going to make,” Karcher said. “They’re competing, the companies are competing against each other to get the athletes what they want locally and at a national level. To me, the big question mark is how much are they willing to pay?”How much is someone willing to pay for college athletes. We assume, ‘Oh gosh, they’ll generate so much money from whoever.’ To me the jury’s out on that.”———AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard contributed.
OMAHA, Neb. — Mississippi State’s first three wins in the College World Series were one-run games. The Bulldogs’ fourth was a blowout, and it was well-timed.Houston Harding and Preston Johnson combined on a four-hitter and MSU capitalized on struggling Vanderbilt pitching in a 13-2 victory Tuesday night that forced a deciding third game in the College World Series finals.The easy win allowed Bulldogs coach Chris Lemonis to hold back rested pitchers, including star reliever Landon Sims, for the winner-take-all Game 3 on Wednesday night.“We’re ecstatic because, one, we’re still playing, and, two, we used two arms tonight,” Lemonis said. “We have an opportunity to use some different guys tomorrow now because of the score. It was nice after the game. I grabbed Landon, I said, ‘Man, it was sure nice not having to pitch you tonight’ because I feel like in every win for the last month he has been out there.”The Commodores (49-17) will be going for their second straight national title and third since 2014 after their most lopsided loss in their 29 all-time CWS games.“Just got to have a short memory,” Vandy’s CJ Rodriguez said. “I think we need to wash it out as fast as we can and get it done tomorrow.”The Bulldogs (49-18) will be playing for their first championship.“This game is done, and we’re going to remain cool, calm and collected and bring the same energy out tomorrow,” MSU’s Scotty Dubrule said. “Tomorrow is a new day and we’re going to have to face some tough arms.”The start in this one was delayed two hours because of rain, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of another pro-MSU crowd that included Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott in a pinstriped “State” baseball jersey and former NFL QB Jay Cutler and basketball coach Jerry Stackhouse representing Vandy.Like Game 1, when Vanderbilt scored seven first-inning runs on its way to an 8-2 win, this one was over early as Mississippi State broke things open with a four-run third inning.“Big bounce-back game from our guys, just a resilient group,” Lemonis said after MSU’s biggest winning margin in Omaha since beating Georgia Southern 15-1 in 1990. “We’ve had our back against the wall feels like all year long and they just keep responding.”The Commodores issued a season-high 10 walks, including three in a row by 17-year-old starter Christian Little (3-2) that fueled Mississippi State’s big fourth inning.The Bulldogs turned an error into a run in the first, and the decisive third inning started with shortstop Carter Young fielding Tanner Allen’s grounder but unable to get the ball out of his glove. It was scored a hit, but probably should have been an out — and was a sign of things to come.Little’s three straight walks forced in a run and brought on reliever Patrick Reilly. Dubrule’s hard comebacker deflected off Reilly’s leg and scored two runs, and the Bulldogs got another on a bases-loaded wild pitch.Mississippi State scored five times in the seventh to push its lead into double digits.“We haven’t played a game like that, but whether it’s 13-1 or 2-1 — if you lose 2-1 it might have more of an effect than a 13-1 game,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said, shorting his team a run in his comment. “It’s embarrassing.”The Bulldogs finished with 14 hits, with light-hitting shortstop Lane Forsythe leading them with three hits out of the No. 9 spot after going 1 for 11 in his first five CWS games.Johnson (4-0) allowed two hits and struck out seven in five innings of relief of Harding.Prescott, MSU’s two-time All-SEC quarterback in 2014-15, got big cheers during an in-stadium interview when he gushed over a Bulldogs’ fan following that far exceeds Vandy’s in numbers and volume. When an MSU fan caught a foul ball and tossed it up to the section behind him where Prescott was sitting, Prescott signed it and tossed it back.The all-SEC finals could come down to a pitching matchup between stars Kumar Rocker of Vanderbilt and Will Bednar of Mississippi State.Rocker, the 2019 CWS Most Outstanding Player, is coming off four days’ rest. Bednar, who struck out 15 against Texas in his CWS debut June 20, would have three days’ rest since throwing 97 pitches in the bracket final against the Longhorns.———More NCAA baseball tournament coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/college-world-series and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25
Vanderbilt gave Jack Leiter a big early lead and went on to an 8-2 victory over Mississippi State in Game 1 of the College World Series finals to move within a win of a second straight national championshipBy ERIC OLSON AP Sports WriterJune 29, 2021, 3:59 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleOMAHA, Neb. — Mississippi State had the crowd. Vanderbilt had a big lead and Jack Leiter on the mound, and that was plenty Monday night.The Commodores rode a seven-run first inning to an 8-2 victory in Game 1 of the College World Series finals to move within a win of a second straight national championship.Fans in Mississippi State maroon overwhelmingly outnumbered Commodores supporters in the crowd of 24,052, many showing up early for tailgating and ringing cowbells in the parking lots.Inside TD Ameritrade Park, some of the MSU faithful taunted the superfan known as the “Vandy Whistler” by chanting “Let’s Go State” after each of his series of three quick whistles between pitches.“I think we had an idea what the stadium environment was going to be like,” Leiter said. “Our fans were amazing all night. Of course, the Mississippi State fans, you’ve got to tip your cap to that fanbase because it’s pretty awesome the support they give their team. Our offense came out of the chute really hot, so that quieted them down a little bit.”The Commodores (49-16) scored their seven first-inning runs off Christian MacLeod and Chase Patrick after Mississippi State (48-18) had taken a 1-0 lead in the top half on Kamren James’ homer into the left-field bleachers.McLeod struggled for a second straight CWS start and got only two outs. The redshirt freshman left-hander walked two of the first three batters and hit two in a row to bring in Vandy’s first run. CJ Rodriguez’s two-run single and Isaiah Thomas’ RBI double brought on Patrick. Jayson Gonzalez greeted him with a three-run homer.McLeod (6-6) lasted only 1 1/3 innings against Virginia last Tuesday in what at the time was his shortest outing of the season.“Tough first inning. We just couldn’t get out of it,” Bulldogs coach Chris Lemonis said. “We gave them too many freebies there in the first. When you give Jack Leiter seven runs in the first — a great pitcher, which he is — he just took it and ran with it.”Leiter (11-4), the national strikeouts leader and a projected top-five pick in the Major League Baseball draft next month, allowed two runs and three hits and fanned eight in six innings. Nick Maldonado pitched three innings of shutout relief for his ninth save.“Jack certainly set the tone tonight,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said. “He pitched very well. It was tough pitching, too. That team does not give in. They fight you on every pitch. They make it very difficult. He was able to kill momentum at several points.”The Commodores didn’t do much offensively after the first inning. Three MSU relievers held them hitless over the next five innings.“I’m not a big moral victory guy, but I did tell our kids I was proud of them afterwards because after the first inning, we locked in and played great baseball,” Lemonis said. “They should feel confident in some ways in the fact when we did go out there and execute pitches and make plays, man, we’re right there.”Vandy won the 2019 title and is trying to become the first back-to-back national champion since 2011, when South Carolina won the second of two straight. There was no CWS last year because of the pandemic.The Commodores won two of three in the regular-season series against Mississippi State in Nashville.They advanced to the finals without completing bracket play. North Carolina State was removed from the tournament early Saturday because of COVID-19 protocols and the winner-take-all bracket final matching those teams was declared a no-contest.Since the best-of-three finals started in 2003, 11 of the 17 Game 1 winners have claimed the national title.Those raucous Bulldogs fans will be back Tuesday night, and Corbin said his team will be ready for more of the same atmosphere.Corbin said the last time he had been in a CWS game with so many people rooting against his team, and so loudly, was 2002 when he was an assistant at Clemson. The Tigers were playing Nebraska, and Corbin said it seemed like everyone in the state was in the stands.“I think the thing that’s helped us in some regards is we have played well on the road,” he said, “and we’ve played well in tough environments. So this was a tough environment, too. And we appreciate the fans that we had, too, because they were loud.”———More NCAA baseball tournament coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/college-world-series and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25
OMAHA, Neb. — Awkward is the only way to describe Vanderbilt’s appearance in the all-SEC College World Series finals beginning Monday night against Mississippi State.The Commodores were supposed to play North Carolina State in a winner-take-all bracket final Saturday and found out 12 hours before the the start the Wolfpack had been removed from the tournament because of COVID-19 protocols. The game was declared a no-contest.“We certainly sympathize with their team, their fan base, too, understanding that we don’t know the level of hurt that they are exposed to right now, but we certainly recognize it,” Vandy coach Tim Corbin said Sunday.“None of us wish to be in this particular position. We certainly would want to play them on the field or have played them on the field, but we didn’t. So we are in the situation where we move forward.”Vanderbilt is the reigning national champion, having won the CWS in 2019. There was no tournament last year because of the pandemic.The No. 4 national seed Commodores (48-16) are at this point after winning two elimination games, most recently 3-1 Friday against an N.C. State team that had only 13 players available.“We’re here for a reason,” first baseman Dominic Keegan said. “We earned our spot here and we got here because of our abilities and what we can do.”The No. 7 Bulldogs (48-17) played two bracket finals against Texas, winning 4-3 on Saturday on Tanner Leggett’s walk-off base hit.“Our guys have fought since the day we got here,” MSU coach Chris Lemonis said. “We haven’t had an easy game yet. It’s been very tight, tough ballgames. But, man, they keep finding a way to persevere. It’s been earned by our guys and I look forward to seeing them play on this stage.”Vanderbilt won two of the three regular-season meetings with MSU in Nashville in April. Vandy’s Kumar Rocker, a possible top-10 pick in the Major League Baseball draft and the 2019 CWS Most Outstanding Player, pitched a three-hitter in the first game of that series and could be available if the finals go three games.Lemonis dismissed any suggestion that this year’s championship would be tainted because Vanderbilt made the finals without completing bracket play, albeit through no fault of its own.“The way that we came through it and the games that we’ve had to play — and now you’re having to play Vanderbilt — there will be no asterisk for us,” Lemonis said. “And I hate it for N.C. State. I have three coaches who worked for Elliot (Avent) on my staff. I have a long relationship with Elliot. My nieces and nephews all went to N.C. State. I have a lot of respect there. …“But for our guys, that stuff’s out of our control. All we can do is show up and play, and whoever is in the other dugout we compete against.”PITCHING PLANSMississippi State will start Christian McLeod in Game 1. He’s made one appearance in the CWS, lasting just 1 1/3 innings and giving up four runs in a 6-5 win over Virginia last Tuesday.Corbin wasn’t ready to announce his Monday starter. National strikeout leader Jack Leiter, a rojected top-five draft pick, would be up next in the rotation. Leiter, who threw 123 pitches in a win over N.C. State last Monday, took his first loss of the season in the second game against MSU in April.USING THE BACKDOORMississippi State has begun using a back entrance to enter and leave its hotel as a precaution against COVID-19. Lemonis said the move was made in response to the Wolfpack’s virus issues.The Bulldogs have brought a large group of fans to Omaha, and players mixed with them until Friday.“The last couple days, we haven’t signed autographs or shaken hands,” Lemonis said. “We’re trying to be as protective as we can. The first couple nights we came to our lobby, thousands of people, it’s the best part of winning a game out here.”Corbin said Vanderbilt has not altered its coming-and-going routines at its hotel.VANDY VAXED?Corbin didn’t answer directly when asked if he could require his players to be vaccinated because Vanderbilt is a private university. That wouldn’t be the case at public schools such as N.C. State and Mississippi State.“I’ve spent a lot of time educating the group what this process could look like at the beginning of the year,” Corbin said. “We are certainly comfortable with where we are and what we’ve done.”———More NCAA baseball tournament coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/college-world-series and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25
Tanner Leggett’s single in the bottom of the ninth inning scored the tiebreaking run, and Mississippi State advanced to the College World Series finals with a 4-3 victory over TexasBy ERIC OLSON AP Sports WriterJune 27, 2021, 3:35 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleOMAHA, Neb. — Tanner Leggett’s first hit in more than a month was the biggest of the season for Mississippi State.Leggett’s single in the bottom of the ninth inning scored the tiebreaking run, and the Bulldogs advanced to the College World Series finals with a 4-3 victory over Texas on Saturday night.“What an opportunity,” he said. “Some people get nervous for that situation, but I pray for that situation. Thank Coach for putting me in the game.”The No. 7 national seed Bulldogs (48-17) reached the finals for the first time since 2013, when they were runners-up to UCLA. Mississippi State will play for its first national title against No. 4 Vanderbilt in an all-SEC, best-of-three series starting Monday night.Vanderbilt (48-16) got its spot in the finals when the NCAA removed North Carolina State from the tournament because of COVID-19 protocols. Vandy and NC State were supposed to play a bracket final on Saturday, but that game was declared a no-contest.Vandy won two of three against the Bulldogs in Nashville in the regular season. The Commodores are the reigning national championships, having won the CWS in 2019. There was no tournament last year because of the pandemic.“We have to go against the best,” MSU coach Chris Lemonis said, “and that’s the way we want it.”Leggett grew up 2 1/2 hours from Starkville, rooted for the Bulldogs in all sports growing up, and said yes, with no hesitation, when MSU recruited him out of a junior college two years ago.Leggett has appeared in 40 games and typically is a defensive replacement in the late innings. The .206 career hitter has only gotten occasional chances to bat late in the season.His last hit came May 22 against Alabama. In his only previous at-bat at the CWS, he had an inning-ending groundout with the bases loaded against Virginia on Tuesday.Leggett got his opportunity in the ninth after Cole Quintanilla hit Kellum Clark with a pitch. Brayland Skinner pinch ran for Clark and stole second to set the stage for Leggett, who drove a 1-1 pitch into left-center.Skinner came around to score easily, and Leggett rounded first base and tossed his helmet into the grass as teammates rushed to mob him.“You black out,” Leggett said. “It’s a great feeling, knowing we’ve worked so hard to get here. Just what a moment, what a moment.”Lemonis said assistant coach Jake Gautreau told him moments earlier that Leggett might be about to have the highlight of his career.“Next thing you know,” Lemonis said, “the ball is in the gap.”Texas had won three straight elimination games to force a second bracket final. The Longhorns needed to win to go to the finals for the first time since 2009.“Baseball is a crazy sport,” Texas center fielder Mike Antico said. “We had a man on second in the top of the ninth, they had a man on second in the bottom of the ninth. They got it done, and we didn’t and the season’s over that quick. You blink your eyes and it’s over.”Mississippi State started Will Bednar, who had 15 of the Bulldogs’ CWS-record 21 strikeouts in a 2-1 win over the No. 2 Longhorns (50-17) last Sunday.Bednar was solid again, but not untouchable, striking out seven in 6 1/3 innings. Cam Williams hit a two-run homer in the second and Mike Antico doubled in a run to put Texas up 3-1 in the fifth.The Bulldogs tied it in the sixth on Logan Tanner’s RBI double, and threatened to go ahead after loading the bases with none out. But Quintanilla (5-1) got out of the jam and allowed only one hit before Leggett’s winner.MSU closer Landon Sims (5-0) took over for Bednar with a runner on base and one out in the seventh, and ended the inning with two strikeouts. Sims retired five of the last six batters he faced.Quintanilla said he expects Texas to be back in CWS sooner than later.“It’s good for the younger guys to experience it and know what it’s like to be in Omaha and what it’s like to win,” he said. “It will motivate the younger guys even more to come back next year and finish unfinished business here.”———More NCAA baseball tournament coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/college-world-series and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25
North Carolina State baseball players who were one win away from playing for a national championship reacted with anger and confusion to their team’s removal from the College World Series because of COVID-19 protocolsBy ERIC OLSON AP Sports WriterJune 26, 2021, 10:30 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleOMAHA, Neb. — North Carolina State baseball players who were one win away from playing for a national championship reacted with anger and confusion to their team’s removal from the College World Series because of COVID-19 protocols.“Words can’t even describe this feeling,” right fielder Devonte Brown tweeted. “An opportunity of a lifetime, something you dream of as a little kid just snatched away in the blink of an eye.”Vanderbilt advanced to the CWS finals after the NCAA announced early Saturday that the Wolfpack would not be allowed to continue in the tournament. The Commodores will meet Texas or Mississippi State in the best-of-three finals starting Monday.NC State had only 13 players available during its 3-1 loss to the Commodores on Friday. The teams had been scheduled to meet again Saturday in a winner-take-all Bracket 1 final. The NCAA Division I Baseball Committee declared that game a no-contest.“This decision was made based on the recommendation of the Championship Medical Team and the Douglas County Health Department,” the NCAA said in a statement. “As a result, Vanderbilt will advance to the CWS Finals.“The NCAA and the committee regret that NC State’s student-athletes and coaching staff will not be able to continue in the championship in which they earned the right to participate. Because of privacy issues, we cannot provide further details.”Douglas County Health Department spokesman Phil Rooney said the health department did not recommend NC State’s removal but told the NCAA the department would support whatever decision the NCAA made.Rooney said the health department provides assistance to the NCAA in testing and contact tracing but is limited in mandating procedures related to COVID-19 because there is no local directed health measure in effect.The Wolfpack overcame starts of 4-9 overall and 1-8 in Atlantic Coast Conference play to win 33 of their last 43 games. They made the 64-team NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 regional seed and beat host Louisiana Tech to win the Ruston Regional. They then went to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and won the best-of-three super regional against No. 1 national seed Arkansas.NC State made the CWS for the third time, and first since 2013, and beat Stanford 10-4 in its opener and Vanderbilt 1-0 in its second game to reach the Bracket 1 final.NC State players and coaches gathered at home plate to take pictures around the CWS logo early Saturday, after the rain-delayed Texas-Mississippi game was completed.“This is a heartbreaking situation and I’m gutted for everyone involved and for all those that were captivated by the heart and fight of this team,” coach Elliott Avent said. “Our medical staff and our players have been incredible this season with all they’ve done to keep us safe and get us ready to play, day in and day out.”I love this team and this past month, many people that got to watch them, fell in love with them as well. Although we’re all heartbroken, this team will never be forgotten and will live in the hearts of Wolfpack and baseball fans forever.”Avent didn’t answer directly when asked after Friday’s game if he encouraged his players to get vaccinated. He said players could decide for themselves. Avent also declined to say if he had been vaccinated.Avent also said after the game that he was confused about the process that led to the NCAA clearing only 13 of the 27 players on the roster.“Quite frankly,” he said, “I have no understanding of what happened today.”The NCAA requires unvaccinated players, coaches and staff to undergo COVID-19 testing every other day at championship sites. The Wolfpack had at least one player test positive on Thursday, and that triggered contact tracing procedures led to 13 other players being ruled out of Friday’s game.Additional testing and contact tracing prompted the NCAA to decide the Wolfpack could not continue in the tournament.Matt Willadsen, who had been the scheduled starter Friday but did not pitch, tweeted he would never forget the feeling of hearing the news.“Our coaching staff deserve better. Us players deserve better. Our fans deserve better. Everyone that believed in us deserve better. We all deserve better. @NCAACWS you have ruined the biggest moment of our player’s lives so far. What a joke.”Vanderbilt returns to the finals for a second straight time. The Commodores won the 2019 CWS. There was no tournament last year because of the pandemic.The pandemic heavily disrupted college sports over the past year and some teams dropped out of an NCAA championship event because of COVID-19: the VCU men’s basketball team, the Michigan and Notre Dame men’s hockey team and the Rice women’s volleyball team.———More NCAA baseball tournament coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/college-world-series and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25