1. Evan Russell is a monster in big games
On Saturday afternoon, Evan Russell endeared himself to baseball fans not only on Rocky Top, but across the college baseball nation. In a challenging tilt against an excellent Vanderbilt squad, with a pitcher on the mound who will likely be on big league mounds within two years, Russell took it upon himself to destroy baseballs and win the game. Russell has 10 home runs on the season — and two games in which he blasted three long balls — with the first being his onslaught against LSU March 27th and the second coming Saturday.
2. This team can compete
Currently, Tennessee is 29-8 (10-5). We knew the team was talented, but a lot of those wins came against competition that isn’t Vanderbilt. While they have commanded a strong series sweep of LSU, as well as series wins against Alabama and Florida, we still haven’t seen them compete with a team like Vanderbilt.
Even though the Vols dropped two games in the three-game series, they showed that they’re capable of playing against any competition in the nation.
3. Omaha is realistic
Now that we’ve seen Tennessee and Vanderbilt square off, it’s evident that the Vols are good enough to make it to Omaha, or, the pinnacle of college baseball. The last time a Tennessee baseball team made it to the College World Series was in 2005; they finished eighth place that year.
In my opinion, that seems like a perfectly attainable goal. When a team is in competition for the SEC title – the toughest conference in the nation, bar none – then any amount of success in the NCAA Tournament is realistic.
4. Tennessee can embrace baseball
What was so cool about the weekend series against the Commodores was how passionate Volunteer fans could be about baseball. Scrolling through Twitter during the game, it seemed as though the baseball team was receiving a similar amount of fanfare that the football and basketball teams experience.
College baseball is the oft forgotten third child of college athletics, but it can sometimes be the most exhilarating. With tickets on the open market going for several hundred dollars, it was clear that Rocky Top can embrace baseball.
5. Vanderbilt is good
This kind of goes without saying, right? I mean, they’ve been a top team all year and lead the best conference in the nation. They’ve got who will likely be the top two draft picks in this year’s MLB Draft.
On Friday, Kumar Rocker pitched seven innings, earning his eighth win of the year after allowing only two hits, no runs, walking one, and striking out eighth.
On Saturday, Russell was able to humanize Jack Leiter, who turned in 6.1 innings pitched, giving up three runs on four hits, three walks, and striking out 10.
It took all hands on deck to compete with Vanderbilt, and it seems that the Commodores go into every series with teams giving their absolute best to knock them off. They’re going to be an extremely difficult team to match up against once the tournament rolls around, but if Tennessee is to experience the pinnacle of college baseball in its entirety, this is a matchup we’re bound to see again.