Tennessee baseball is an intriguing story. The Vols might do anything in the College World Series. They probably won’t but they could win.
Last year, a really good team, cocky and rowdy to a fault, got caught not looking, lost at home to Notre Dame and missed a trip to Omaha.
This team, No. 2 in the country in the beginning because of pitching (Chase Dollander, Chase Burns and Drew Beam), looked awful at times. Almost nothing went as expected. Pitching faltered. There were fielding problems. Hitting was sporadic or worse.
The Volunteers got knocked around and stepped on. Mediocre Missouri won three in a row.
There was a time when Tennessee had a 5-10 record against Southeastern Conference foes. If that wasn’t bad enough, it lost to Tennessee Tech. Things like that are not supposed to happen.
The Vols looked really ragged on the road. Burns’ ERA ballooned to 6.10.
Tony Vitello made a major decision that earned part of his $1.5 million salary. He put a warrior, Andrew Lindsey, into the pitching rotation.
“The team gained a little bit of an edge,” Dollander said.
There may have been a hint of things to come in the Vanderbilt series. In game one of three, the Commodores struck out 19 times in 12 innings, including seven in the final three (by Burns).
The Vols overcame a 3-0 deficit in the ninth on home runs by freshmen Kavares Tears and Dylan Dreiling. Griffin Merritt hit a walk-off home run in the 12th.
It has been said that all is well that ends well.
Game two was better, a mercy stoppage, 17-1. Vols celebrated. Next day, they completed the sweep. Vandy was in agony.
The Tennessee coach said the Vols accepted ownership about mid-season and started back up the hill. They regained “good” in the clutch, in the postseason. That was an achievement, for certain, but done the hard way.
Five times they were down to their final strike in the Clemson regional. Obviously, they survived. In fact, they prevailed.
Tennessee defeated Charlotte, 8-1, in game one. It won a classic in 14 innings over the host Tigers. Hope you saw it. Great game.
Zane Denton, ninth inning, down 0-2 in the count with two outs, hit a three-run homer for a 5-4 Vol lead. Clemson got even in the bottom of the ninth, with a two-out, two-strike single.
The 10th inning frayed a few nerves. Burns pitched into serious trouble — single, walk and hit-by-pitch. He avoided disaster with a strikeout and a double-play grounder – except the umpire said safe at first and the winning run scored for the home team.
Until it didn’t.
The safe call was overturned upon video review. Out!
Action continued. Seth Halvorsen pitched 3⅓ hitless innings. In the 14th, Hunter Ensley doubled in Maui Ahuna from first. Tennessee won, 6-5.
The Vols again defeated Charlotte, 9-2, in the final.
In the super regional, in Hattiesburg instead of Knoxville for some strange reason, Tennessee had only four hits against Southern Miss and lost the two-day opener, interrupted by storms.
In the win or go home game two, it trailed 4-0 but erupted for six runs in the fourth inning against one of the best pitchers in Golden Eagles history. Big blow was a Blake Burke home run.
Tennessee won, 8-4. Fan friction broke out. Handcuffs were allegedly applied.
After an extended weather delay at the start, the Vols won game three, 5-0. Denton hit another home run, his 16th of the season.
Vitello and his team saluted Golden Eagles’ retiring coach Scott Berry. Said Vitello: “The coach part is real good, but the person part is way better.”
Southern Miss famous alum Brett Farve said “Hats off to the Vols, great show of class.”
The College World Series starts Friday. Tennessee (43-20) plays Saturday against No. 5 national seed LSU (48-15) at 7 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
LSU features two top pro prospects. Center fielder Dylan Crews is batting .434. Pitcher Paul Skenes has 188 strikeouts.
The Tigers defeated the Vols twice in three games in Baton Rouge in late March. Skenes pitched seven innings, gave up five hits, one run and struck out 12.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is email@example.com.