Vols win College World Series, deliver baseball history

Marvin Westwestwords

Three loud cheers for the Volunteers. They are the champions.

Great team, sensational season, unforgettable finish came together in Omaha for an honest-to-goodness highlight in the history of Tennessee sports.

The big bucket of ice water dumped on coach Tony Vitello’s head wasn’t too bad a postscript.

Top-ranked Tennessee nipped Texas A&M, 6-5, in the College World Series for the university’s first national championship in baseball. The victory was a record 60th in the spirited campaign.

Christian Moore blasted a leadoff home run.

Dylan Dreiling delivered a two-run drive off a previously “invincible” Aggie.

Hunter Ensley avoided a tag at home plate with an incredible slide. That run, his play, turned out to be the winning edge.

Tennessee pitching went from gritty good to alarming to a nail-biting conclusion, decisive strikeouts powered by raw courage. A tired man, Aaron Combs, refused to lose.

Records? There are a few. The Vols became the first No. 1 seed to go all the way to the national title since 1999. They are the first 60-win SEC team in history. Dreiling became the first to hit home runs in all three Series games. He was named most valuable player (13 hits and 11 RBI).

Never happen again: Dreiling hit two-run homers in the seventh inning of all three games.

Celebration? It might be a record, too. It may still be going. Of course, fans sang “Rocky Top.” Thousands chanted “It’s great to be a Tennessee Vol.”

University officials were there. Dr. Danny White, athletics director, talked about how great a coach Vitello is. Football coach Josh Heupel and basketball coach Rick Barnes cheered. Peyton Manning was again a star. Morgan Wallen of country music fame was decked out in his Tennessee finest. I do believe Tony Martin, the man who wrote and sang the song “Omaha” for ESPN, was in the house.

The dominant color was orange. Texas A&M was overmatched in the stands.

The biggest game of his baseball life was not too big for Tennessee starting pitcher Zander Sechrist. He allowed one run and struck out seven in five and a third innings.

Zander began his career as a midweek pitcher against non-conference foes. He wrapped up his career with starts that turned into an SEC season title, an NCAA regional title, a super-regional title and the national championship.

Moore gave Tennessee a 1-0 lead in the first inning. The Vols went up 3-1 in the third. Dreiling made it 5-1 and Ensley added the key run in the seventh.

Texas A&M reduced the deficit to 6-3 in the eighth. Freshman pitcher Dylan Loy lasted one-third of the inning. Kirby Connell restored order.

The ninth tested Tennessee poise. Vitello sent Combs to the mound even though he had thrown 63 pitches on Sunday. He wasn’t sharp. His fastball wasn’t as fast. What he delivered certainly wasn’t beautiful – a hanging slider and a leadoff double, a single, an RBI, a balk, a wild pitch, another run, another wild pitch and a fifth run.

The coach had two Vols throwing in the bullpen but he stayed with Combs. It turned out that none of that mess mattered. He struck out the final two Aggies.

The team whoopee was something to behold. Dreiling held the championship trophy high so fans could see. Vitello ran to embrace his dad. Vitello was disjointed in the TV interview. Vitello loved the cold shower from his happy players.

“Very surreal,” said Vitello. “Lost in the moment … nothing too intelligent to say… hope the fans that have turned this into an insane party, insane event, got the series that they wanted and deserved.”

The coach said it was clear that either team could have won.

“Congrats to Texas A&M.”

Jim Schlossnagle, coach of the Aggies, was also gracious.

“Congratulations to the University of Tennessee. What an awesome, awesome team. Great series. Sixty wins, wow.”

Bonus: Vitello earned a $140,000 bonus for the championship.

Parade: Tennessee’s team will return to Knoxville in time for an afternoon parade. It will begin at the Gay Street bridge at 6:15 p.m., go up Gay to Wall Avenue and go to Market Square.

The program there will supposedly start at 6:45. White, Vitello, some of the Vols and goodness knows who else will speak. If I read the script correctly, this event is free.

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


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