Vols knock off Seminoles, advance to finals

Marvin Westwestwords

This baseball stuff is getting serious.

No. 1 Tennessee is two wins away from the championship of the College World Series. That hasn’t happened in 73 years.

The Vols pitched and powered past Florida State, 7-2, on Wednesday in Omaha. Crafty lefty Zander Sechrist handcuffed most of the Seminoles for six innings. Tennessee’s defense robbed others. Blake Burke blasted a home run, his 20th, and had two other hits. Christian Moore had a triple and single. Billy Amick doubled and singled.

Tennessee now has the NCAA slugging record. It is first to have five players with 20 or more home runs.

Kavares Tears made the defensive play of the game in the first inning, a sensational catch in center field that included another crash into the wall, too much like what happened previously to Hunter Ensley.

Tears was not injured. Ensley, not incidentally, recovered enough to serve as designated hitter. He batted in a run.

The show is far from over. Tennessee and big, strong Texas A&M will square off Saturday in the beginning of the best-of-three final series. The Southeastern Conference can take a bow.

The Vols have already put a small notch on history. They’ve won 58 games. The 2022 team had the school record at 57.

The Seminoles talked about bigger things. They were looking forward to the great rematch. They thought they should have won the opener they lost, 12-11. They certainly were closer the first time.

Florida State coach Link Jarrett had to go with a second or third choice as starting pitcher, freshman John Abraham. Ace Jamie Arnold said sorry but he wasn’t ready. He hadn’t had enough rest since his six innings on Friday.

Abraham lasted 18 pitches and gave up three runs. Tennessee never looked back.

Sechrist does not have a world-class arsenal but he is very efficient. He changes speeds and most often puts pitches where he wants them to go. He put Evansville away quietly in the deciding game of the super regional and held FSU scoreless until the seventh.

Daniel Cantu and Alex Lodise hit home runs back-to-back. Coach Tony Vitello decided Sechrist was tired. Kirby Connell got five outs. Nate Snead applied the finishing touch.

Vols smiled and patted each other on the back. There was no wild-eyed celebration. The team seemed business-like. Indeed, there is work to be finished.

Back in May, Tennessee and Texas A&M were the betting favorites to win the national title. The Aggies were ranked No. 1 in the nation for several weeks before the Vols were so honored.

A&M slumped a bit late in the regular season – losing two of its final three SEC series. It went two-and-out in the league tournament. One of the losses was to Tennessee, 7-4.

Vitello did not look ahead. He talked about the victory over FSU. He said it was one of the weirdest games he’d ever been in.

I missed that weird part.

“Maybe we came out on the winning end because we have one of the weirdest pitchers I’ve ever been around in Zander,” said the coach. “He threw the ball really well and led us into the battle the way he should. But both teams struck a bunch of balls very well. Both teams made great defensive plays.”

I’ll buy that part.

Vitello had some general thoughts about success. He mentioned maturity, experience, knowing what to do in different situations.

“I’m very blessed with a support staff that’s insanely good. We’ve stuck together regardless of what goes on – we’re incredibly close.”

He got around to crediting players for success.

“This group will listen as well as – I can’t think of a group that compares to it.”

In addition to listening, they can hit, too.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com


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