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Road to Omaha: Tennessee’s path to the College World Series

Is it Vols vs. the field?

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Jake Crandall/ Advertiser / USA TODAY NETWORK

The field of 64 was revealed on Memorial Day, and to no one’s surprise, the Tennessee Volunteers emerged as the top overall seed following their historic season capped off with an SEC Tournament Championship win over Florida.

As for the rest of the field, there were definitely some surprises. Many predicted NC State would make a regional, seeing as their RPI is better than a slew of teams that reached the tournament as at-large bids. D1Baseball had the Wolfpack in relatively easily, slotting them in Tennessee’s Knoxville Regional in their final bracketology, not even listing them on their Last Four In/First Four Out.

On Sunday evening, the regional host locations were announced, with it involving the host teams. In order of seeding, these teams will host a regional: Tennessee, Stanford, Oregon State, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Miami (FL), Oklahoma State, East Carolina, Texas, North Carolina, Southern Miss, Louisville, Florida, Auburn, Maryland, and Georgia Southern.

The ACC and SEC share as the tournament’s leaders, sending nine teams each to the tourney.

Here is the official bracket:

As you can see, the Knoxville Regional winner will play the Statesboro Regional winner in the Super Regionals. Georgia Southern plays host in Statesboro. Should the Vols advance to the Super Regionals, they would host there as well.

Before we get started, a big shoutout to @statsowar on twitter for some of the advanced stats you’ll see here, wOBA in particular. Check out their regional breakdowns here.

KNOXVILLE REGIONAL

1 Tennessee vs. 4 Alabama State
3 Campbell vs. 2 Georgia Tech

1 Tennessee Volunteers
53-7 (25-5) | SEC double champs | RPI: 1 | Head coach: Tony Vitello
Team hitting: .308/.421/.604/1.025 | 141 HR | 9.35 R/G | .554 wOBA | 24.01 K% | 17.33 BB%
Team pitching: 2.35 ERA | 4.04 FIP | 0.964 WHIP | 23.13 K-BB%

As we all know, the Vols are on a historic pace this season. It’s been a wonderful journey with Tony Vitello, and this team is his magnum opus thus far. Shattering school records left and right, they’ve been beyond dominant, they’ve been a juggernaut. The Vols boast the nation’s best offense and pitching staff rounded off with a shutdown bullpen, leading the nation in countless categories across the board as you see above.

We know about the bats and the arms, it’s the most complete team in the country and they’ve proven that. Chase Dollander emerged late in the season as *the* ace of team with four ace-caliber arms while the offense piggybacked off each other, putting together complete performances down the stretch.

Is it Tennessee vs. the field? Maybe, but it might be Tennessee vs. recent history. 1999 was the last time the top overall seed won the College World Series, that being Miami. Baseball as a sport inherently creates parity on its own, but college baseball is riddled with it in its own way. Can the Vols make history one final time in Omaha?

4 Alabama State Hornets
34-23 (21-8) | SWAC double champs | RPI: 199 | HC: Jose Vazquez
Team hitting: .291/.404/.436/.840 | 52 HR | 7.74 R/G | 23.29 K% | 15.19 BB% | .476 wOBA
Team pitching: 5.07 ERA | 5.18 FIP | 1.564 WHIP | 9.01 K-BB%

For just the second time in program history and the first time under head coach José Vázquez, the Hornets of Alabama State are in the dance.

Their 5.07 team ERA was the best in the SWAC, but the SWAC posted the worst conference ERA in the nation at 7.65, the only conference north of 7.00.

Breon Pooler will likely be the man on the mound against Tennessee, and he’s been good as advertised. Named the preseason SWAC Pitcher of the Year, in 84.2 innings, Pooler’s 3.19 ERA was second best in the SWAC among starters behind Grambling State’s Shemar Page’s mark of 2.60.

Pooler struggles with command at times and his 11.6% walk rate will only be magnified upon should he take the bump against a Vols team that walks more than any other team in the tournament. He will obviously have his work cut out for him, but he’s coming off a stellar outing in the SWAC Tournament against Texas Southern, tossing 7.1 innings of one-run ball allowing just eight baserunners.

The offense doesn’t supply a ton of power. Corey King is the team’s only double digit home run hitter, sending 14 out of the yard this season, and only one other player is above five.

Alabama State has their work cut out for them and then some. This was an unenviable draw for whoever got it, but they will put up a fight.

3 Campbell Fighting Camels
40-17 (20-3) | Big South double champs | RPI: 58 | HC: Justin Haire
Team hitting: .298/.409/.544/.953 | 111 HR | 8.70 R/G | .520 wOBA | 23.29 K% | 13.70 BB%
Team pitching: 4.51 ERA | 4.91 FIP | 1.387 WHIP | 12.62 K-BB%

Campbell has a nice little run going for itself, huh? Having now reached its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, the Camels followed up an at-large berth a season ago with a dominant run through the Big South, not needing the at-large berth this time.

Offensively, the Camels rake. Campbell ranks within the top 10 nationally in runs scored, and their 8.7 runs per game was 1.41 runs better than the next closest team in the Big South. Their 111 home runs broke the school record of 106 set way back in 1985.

Future first rounder Zach Neto followed up his 2021 Big South POTY campaign with an even better 2022 season. The star shortstop left the yard 15 times while following up a .405 batting average last season with a .398 mark this year to go with an absurd .506 OBP and 1.275 OPS, both career highs.

The offense definitely carries the load, but the pitching has put in a strong effort this season as well. Thomas Harrington has emerged as the team’s ace, finishing with the second best starter ERA in the conference at 2.21. His 0.887 WHIP and 2.60 FIP are stellar, and he’s allowed just one home run over 85.2 innings.

He can touch mid-90s with his fastball and mostly sits low 90s with it. He compliments that with a really nice changeup. He’s walked just 16 batters to 109 strikeouts, good for a 27.59 K-BB%, a mark bested by just Chase Dollander in this regional.

Should Harrington take the mound against Georgia Tech, that combo of control with swing and miss stuff will need to be on its A-game against a powerful Tech lineup.

Beyond Harrington

This is a better team than their 2021 squad across the board. Being in the same regional as the Vols puts them at worse odds, but Campbell is definitely a noteworthy dark horse in this year’s tournament. Do not sleep on this team.

2 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
34-22 (15-15; 5th in ACC Coastal) | RPI: 21 | HC: Danny Hall
Team hitting: .324/.417/.552/.969 | 110 HR | 9.30 R/G | .518 wOBA | 22.03 K% | 13.26 BB%
Team pitching: 6.54 ERA | 6.32 FIP | 1.728 WHIP | 10.43 K-BB%

If you want to see what Campbell’s offense looks like on a power-five conference level, look no further than Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets ranked fifth in the nation in runs scored this season, averaging over nine a game, and have the highest batting average in the field.

Top 10 draft prospect and Golden Spikes, Dick Howser, and Buster Posey semifinalist Kevin Parada leads this offense with 26 homers and 85 RBI, slashing .356/.451/.728 with a 1.179 OPS. The Jackets as a team have seven batters who have at least 200 plate appearances with an OPS north of .900.

As for the pitching, however, it’s a different story. A caveat here is that the ACC was a bandbox this year. The conference led the nation in runs with nine teams averaging over seven runs per game. That’s going to make for some inflated pitching numbers. That being said, Tech still finished second to last in the ACC in team ERA. They don’t have a single pitcher south of a 4.35 ERA who’s thrown 10-plus innings.

In this regional especially, that’s a huge obstacle to overcome, but with their bats, we could be in for a few slugfests in Knoxville.

STATESBORO REGIONAL

1 Georgia Southern vs. 4 UNC Greensboro
3 Texas Tech vs. 2 Notre Dame

16 Georgia Southern Eagles
40-18 (23-7; 2nd in Sun Belt) | SBCT Runner-up | RPI: 11 | HC: Rodney Hennon
Team batting: .297/.397/.456/.853 | 61 HR | 7.38 R/G | .469 wOBA | 22.89 K% | 12.63 BB%
Team pitching: 4.90 ERA | 5.93 FIP | 1.420 WHIP | 7.63 K-BB%

Though they started their season on the losing end of a three game sweep against Tennessee, it was all up from there for the Eagles. For the first time since 2014, Georgia Southern is in the NCAA Tournament, and this time as an at-large and hosting a regional. The Eagles put together a strong season, reaching the 40 win mark, a feat accomplished just 11 times in school history.

Offensively, they’re above the national averages across the board but don’t trend far enough away to where they can’t see them. They don’t hit for a ton of power but are capable of it, ranking outside the top 100 in home runs per game and doubles.

On the pitching side of things, Georgia Southern is very free pass friendly, with a walk rate north of 10.6%, and they don’t combat it with strong strikeout stuff either. As a staff, their 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings is 251st in the nation. A team that likes to walk a lot of batters while pitching to contact is usually a recipe for disaster, and it’s led to a sub-par FIP, but they’ve managed to work around it more often than not.

Ty Fisher has largely been the exception to this for the Eagles. The team’s ace finished the season with a 2.87 ERA in 78.1 innings pitched, and though his strikeout rate is well below 20 percent (16.46%) he also doesn’t issue free passes (6.71 BB%). Jay Thompson has become the team’s ultra flex arm out of the bullpen. Despite not starting a single game in his 35 appearances, the southpaw has amassed 71.1 innings, second most on the team, with a 3.66 ERA, becoming a rock for a team who deploys their bullpen early and often.

4 UNC Greensboro Spartans
34-28 (12-9; 4th in SoCon) | Conf. Tourn. Champs | RPI: 93 | HC: Billy Godwin
Team batting: .311/.401/.457/.858 | 53 HR | 7.39 R/G | .465 wOBA | 20.85 K% | 12.82 BB%
Team pitching: 5.48 ERA | 5.44 FIP | 1.550 WHIP | 9.98 K-BB%

What a late run it was for the Spartans. Winners of 9 of their last 10 dating back to May 19, their lone hiccup came against Wofford in the Southern Conference Tournament, the team everyone had picked to coast through the whole thing. Emerging from the loser’s bracket, though, UNC Greensboro answered that loss with back to back beatdowns of that same Wofford team, 10-2 and 12-2, to win the tournament and clinch a tournament berth.

The two wins encapsulated UNC-G’s season. An inconsistent season on the whole ending with a hot streak and a regional berth in Statesboro is pretty great, and it took the entire season to get to this point. The Spartans strung together multiple three and four game win streaks prior to their latest run, but wedged in between those are four and seven game losing streaks.

They’ve scored at least eight runs in 10 of their last 11 wins, eclipsing 10 runs seven times. Their run count in the losses in that span, however, combine for just 7. It’s certainly been all or nothing lately, but it’s been more all than nothing, and now they have a shot at continuing this unlikely run.

3 Texas Tech
37-20 (15-9; 2nd in Big 12) | RPI: 45 | HC: Tim Tadlock
Team hitting: .294/.406/.502/.907 | 83 HR 8.74 R/G | .504 wOBA | 24.17 K% | 16.03 BB%
Team pitching: 5.25 ERA | 5.04 FIP | 1.432 WHIP | 25.48 K% | 9.87 BB%

Texas Tech is an incredibly confounding team with tons of upside and lots of talent. Tech has a series win over Texas, a nine game winning streak, and from February 22 to the end of March, they went 21-and-3.

Since then, they’re 15-and-15 with a five game losing streak, and got swept in a two game set against Grand Canyon and by TCU. They had a poor outing in the Big 12 Tournament, falling to Oklahoma and Kansas State in consecutive games after beating Kansas State in their opening matchup.

Tech has dealt with injuries. They missed Dillon Carter for roughly two weeks in May, and team saves leader, Trendan Parish, went down for the season around the same time with an undisclosed arm injury. It was a huge blow to Tech’s bullpen as the freshman righty had pitched well up until his final four outings when he tried to pitch through the injury.

Fourth year junior Brandon Birdsell has been the staff ace and will take the mound against Notre Dame. Tech’s staff has been riddled with inconsistency, but Birdsell had largely been the constant up until his last two starts. He’s surrendered 10 runs over his last 10 innings in starts against Oklahoma and Kansas State.

The Texas Tech offense is quite the opposite of inconsistent, however. They mash. Led by soon-to-be first rounder Jace Jung, the Red Raider bats led the Big 12 in scoring. Given the offenses in that league, that’s no small feat. Tech’s lineup trots out five everyday players with OPS’s north of .930, led by Jung and Easton Murrell who both boast an OPS above 1.100.

Tech is a mystifying team that could be out in their first two games but is equally capable of making a run to Omaha. In a weaker regional, they have the best chance they could’ve asked for.

2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
35-14 (16-11; 2nd in ACC) | RPI: 12 | HC: Link Jarrett
Team hitting: .298/.380/.481/.861 | 65 HR | 7.92 R/G | .455 wOBA | 20.41 K% | 10.70 BB%
Team pitching: 3.91 ERA | 4.49 FIP | 1.266 WHIP | 28.21 K% | 9.92 BB%

In a conference that crushed the ball, Notre Dame found themselves to be the lone ACC squad with a sub-4.00 team ERA. Pitching is the strength of this team much like it was a year ago when they won their regional.

John Michael Bertrand used a strong 2021 to become the ace of one of the nation’s best pitching staffs as a graduate senior, posting a 2.39 ERA with a 3.62 FIP and 1.007 WHIP in 90.1 innings pitched. Bertrand went 5-plus innings in all but one start.

Jacksonville transfer Austin Temple provided a huge lift to the starting staff, posting a 3.19 ERA in 59.1 innings. His ACC tournament performance was a bit of a mixed bag; he was wild in his two-thirds of an inning outing against Florida State, allowing a pair of runs after Bertrand tossed a gem. He rebounded well, though, tossing four innings of one run ball against North Carolina.

As for the bats, Notre Dame doesn’t pack a ton of thunder, but they can be active on the base paths. Jack Zyska had a breakthrough season for the Irish, posting career bests across the board. Jack Penney has shined in his staggered at-bats this year, and should he get consistent plate appearances in the tournament, he could be a real difference maker as he has been all year.


Strictly playing the odds, they’re naturally stacked against picking Tennessee vs. the field. That being said, when have you ever seen a team like this? As you saw above, the competition is incredibly well rounded within their own regional and beyond.

The most promising sign that what Tennessee has done all season is sustainable as they head into a regional against teams they’ve not seen all year is that the youth of this team has developed into future stars of a program littered with upperclassmen studs both offensively and on the mound. The roster is as deep as it is great, and that’s a vital piece to any great run.

Should we continue to get the BaseVols we got in the SEC Tournament and really all year for that matter, we are primed for a promising June in Knoxville and hopefully beyond to Omaha.