At the beginning of the 2015 college baseball season, the had high expectations and an "Omaha-or-bust" attitude heading into the season. After head coach Dave Serrano's third team made a surprising jump in 2014 by finishing 11th in the SEC with a 12-18 conference record and made their first SEC Tournament since 2007, expectations rose for his fourth season at the helm.
The Vols started out the season ranked in the top 25 in a handful of polls, and Serrano and the team made it clear that their goal was to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005. However, the season got off to a rocky start in both the win/loss column and in terms of even playing games. Snow and ice caused several games to get postponed and canceled, and the Vols could never find any consistency.
All of that led to a 7-6 record before the SEC season began, and it only got worse from there. Consistency and weak hitting continued to plague the Vols, and by May 3rd the Vols were 18-24 and 7-17 in the SEC. Thanks to the overall depth of the SEC and every team beating up on one another, the Vols weren't mathematically eliminated from the SEC Tournament. But the Vols had a gigantic hill to climb.
At that point, fans had almost completely given up hope that the Vols would make the SEC Tournament despite the expectations to start the season. Not only did the Vols have to take care of their own business, but they needed help from other teams in the conference as well.
Undeterred, the Vols suddenly found the right mix of pitching and timely hitting, winning 6 of their last 7 games, including a 3-game sweep of Mississippi State to close the season, marking Tennessee's first 3-game series sweep since 2012. Couple that with enough losses by thedown the stretch, and the Vols stole the last spot in the SEC Tournament on the last day of the regular season after a walk-off 3-2 victory over Mississippi State.
Tennessee's season was plagued by mental mistakes, base-running errors, and poor hitting in clutch situations. So when the Vols needed a comeback in the bottom of the 9th on Saturday, the last game of the regular season, it looked like Tennessee would miss the postseason.
Facing a 2-0 deficit in the bottom of the 9th, the Vols did something they hadn't done all season: They rallied.smacked a single up the middle with the bases loaded to drive home the game-winning run, propelling the Vols into the SEC Tournament as the 12th and final seed. It was Tennessee's first come-from-behind victory in "clutch time" all season. The Vols finished 11-18 in the SEC, just a game off last season's record.
But does Tennessee's near miraculous end to the regular season change the perception around head coach Dave Serrano? Many fans had questioned his coaching style and his ability to resurrect the Tennessee baseball program throughout the 2015 season, but the way the Vols performed down the stretch showed the Vols were capable of living up to their potential.
It was already assumed by many that Serrano would get a chance to finish out his 5-year contract next season, and the late season surge this season may point to a better fifth season than previously expected. Or should this ending be viewed simply as an aberration and doesn't speak to Serrano's ability to coach?
Serrano has had success at every stop before taking over at Tennessee in 2012. Serrano took UC Irvine to the College World Series in 2007 and returned again in 2009 with Cal State Fullerton. Serrano also never missed the NCAA Tournament in his 4 seasons at Cal State Fullerton.
So far at Tennessee, Serrano has seen one winning season in his four seasons as head coach. That could change depending on how the Vols finish out the 2015 season, but it doesn't look highly likely they'll eclipse the .500 mark.
The solid finish to this season that saved what looked to be a disastrous fourth season under Serrano doesn't excuse how the season began, however. The Vols may have been young, but they made far too many mental mistakes and nearly buried themselves too deep. Serrano has to take a lot of the blame for that, as well as his players.
But does the strong finish to the 2015 regular season affect your opinion of Dave Serrano? Does it change it all, or are you holding out your judgement until his fifth and final season in his initial contract? Let us know in the comments and poll below.