Three things are clear when it comes to the Tennessee Volunteers on the baseball diamond: Their offense is a juggernaut, their pitching staff is lethal, and no lead is safe. Tennessee is the best team in college baseball and has held the No. 1 spot atop the rankings in April.
Low-scoring game? The Vols can win that. High-scoring game? The Vols can win that. A late-game deficit? The Vols can *still* find a way to win that. Tony Vitello’s team, who is currently 56-7 entering this weekend’s best-of-three Super Regional against Notre Dame, is quite special, and they have proven it time and time again all season, no matter the situation.
They’ve had their fair share of blowouts, where the final score looked like a football score, not a baseball game. They’ve also had pitching duals where every at-bat, run, and pitch was thrown under a microscope. Tennessee has literally won baseball games all season in basically every way a baseball team can win a game. It’s one of the many reasons they are prepared now more than ever for the rest of the postseason. Whether they have a big lead or they trail late in the game, the Volunteers aren’t scared.
In fact, they are confident that they will win each game, no matter what the score is. That came to focus last weekend, when on back-to-back nights, Tennessee had a late-inning rally to either secure the lead or take the lead for good. Rallies that led to more staredowns, bat flips, confidence, and swagger. The types of things that the Volunteers have showcased throughout their dominant season.
“I just don’t think that we fear very many people,” outfielder Jordan Beck said after Sunday night’s win to beat Georgia Tech, one in which the Vols scored six runs in the ninth inning to get the win after trailing, 4-3. “Even when we are down, it is kind of motivation to go more and have more and better at-bats and kind of push the game farther. The games are honestly more fun when they are close like that.
“You can see the competitiveness come out in us.”
The close games might be more fun for the players, but they certainly give the fans more heartburn. Then again, blowouts every game wouldn’t be fun after a while, so the heartburn is certainly worth it, especially if it ends in a W. The confidence stems from the fact that the Volunteers are dominant both at the plate and on the pitcher’s mound.
The Vols lead Division I baseball in home runs (150) and slugging percentage (.607) and are among the best in batting average (.311, 11th) and on-base percentage (.421, fourth).
With five players hitting at least, .335 and 10 with at least a 1.0000 slugging percentage, finding a weak spot in the lineup is quite tough for any opponent. The Volunteers have a team slash line of .311/.421/.607 (1.028 OPS). That’s insane, to say the least.
Tennessee has the best ERA in the country (2.38). In fact, the difference between the Vols and second-place Southern Mississippi (3.17) is almost the same difference between the Golden Eagles and the 13th-best team ERA (Vanderbilt, 3.95). The Volunteers’ pitching staff has been that dominant and it has been a complete staff effort. Tennessee also has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.24) and WHIP (.98) as well. Like their ERA, the difference between their dominant WHIP and second-place Southern Miss (1.14) is the same as the difference between the Golden Eagles and the 18th-best WHIP in Division I. They have the second-most shutouts (nine) in the country, behind only Vanderbilt (10).
Not a single Vols pitcher has more than one loss this season, with five pitchers featuring a sub-3.00 ERA (five have a 2.00 ERA or less and 10 owning a sub-1.00 WHIP. Just like their lineup, Tennessee can lean on a number of different arms (both starters and out of the ‘pen) to get the job done, no matter the situation.
Even if Vitello wants to go to his bench for a pinch-hitter, he has a number of different guys that can step right in and shine under the brightest lights. During Sunday night’s ninth-inning rally to come back and beat Georgia Tech, the head coach called on Jared Dickey. The redshirt freshman hit a leadoff single. Then, later in the inning, Christian Moore had a pinch-hit, two-RBI single with bases loaded. Not to forget, Blake Burke might be one of the best pinch-hitters in college baseball, all stats aside. The freshman has 14 home runs in just 91 at-bats. For those keeping track at home, that is a home run every 6.5 at-bats.
Whether it’s a seasoned vet or a first-year player, the Vols are talented at essentially every position on the field, in the dugout, and in the bullpen. So many different players have played a role in Tennessee’s dominance and have stepped up in certain situations this season that the list is essentially endless. There’s a reason Vitello seems to have so much confidence in his team, no matter who the player might be.
If an opponent wants to beat Tennessee, they have to play damn-near perfect and hope that the Vols do the opposite. If Tennessee plays perfectly (or close to perfect) too, well, good luck. The Vols just have so many weapons all over the field (and even coming off of the bench and out of the bullpen), that they can win in any situation. It’s the reason they have so much confidence and swagger no matter what the score is. It all starts at the top with Vitello and trickles its way down.
Tennessee will look to showcase that confidence, swagger, and winning (and hopefully bat flips, please) beginning Friday night. The Vols will host Notre Dame in a best-of-three Super Regional this weekend. The first pitch on Friday night is set for 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2), with Game 2 of the series set for 2 p.m. ET (ESPN) Saturday afternoon.
Lindsey Nelson Stadium should be rocking all weekend as long as the Volunteers continue their winning ways, no matter how the winning takes place.