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Important tests ahead for Tennessee baseball

The 2021 NCAA baseball regular season is beginning to wind down, with conference tournaments due up before a select number of teams will compete in the NCAA tournament. For the Tennessee Volunteers (34-11, 14-7), the sixth ranked team in the nation, there’s still much to play for as the countdown to the postseason begins.

The Volunteers still have 11 games remaining this season, which consists of three conference three-game series matchups, as well as two individual games — one against Tennessee Tech and one against Belmont. As far as SEC play is concerned, Tennessee will take on a struggling Missouri team on the road this weekend, but it’s the final two series’ of the year which provide the most intrigue.

Beginning Friday, May 14, the Volunteers will begin a three-game series against the number one ranked Arkansas Razorbacks (34-8, 15-6), in addition to a three-game series against the 18th ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia the following weekend to wrap up the regular season.

These two final tests will not only continue to test Tennessee’s meddle, but it will also give them an opportunity to potentially win the conference, as well as raise their stock heading into the postseason.

Unlike Tennessee, Arkansas had the privilege of missing Vanderbilt on their 2021 schedule. The Razorbacks have made the most of that fortune, managing to win every series they’ve been faced with thus far, with few losses scattered throughout.

As it stands, Arkansas has the best record in the Southeastern Conference, but three clubs — Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Mississippi State — sit only a game back, while Florida and Ole Miss sit two games back.

With Tennessee and Florida on the Razorbacks’ docket back-to-back, there’s an opportunity for the conference-leading team to slip up, enabling another opponent to slide in as the clock strikes midnight.

As for Vandy, who’s currently tied with the Vols in the SEC East, they’ve been scuffling as of late, going 5-5 over their last 10 ballgames, and having dropped three consecutive games. The Commodores will close the season with matchups against Alabama, Ole Miss, and Kentucky.

To have a shot at winning the conference, Tennessee would likely have to go 9-2 — or, at worse, 8-3 — over their final 11 games, with wins coming against Tennessee Tech and Belmont, a sweep of Mizzou, and take two-out-of-three against both Arkansas and South Carolina.

It’s a tall order to be sure, but one thing’s been certain throughout this SEC baseball cycle: Nothing is guaranteed. While Tennessee doesn’t control its own destiny in the purest sense, the Vols will have a large say in what happens to them moving forward.

But it’s going to take an all-hands-on-deck effort to close out the season, as the Razorbacks are currently one of the hotter teams in the conference, having won seven of their last 10, including two-out-of-three against those Gamecocks.

What’s going to happen in the SEC is anybody’s guess, but it should be an exciting few weeks and will hopefully contain teams jumping back-and-forth over each other to close out the year. Once the conference tournament begins play on May 25, the excitement around the league should double, with the best teams squaring off routinely in preparation for the NCAA tournament.