HOOVER, Ala. — There have been loads of instances throughout this Tennessee baseball season that the Volunteers appeared destined for greater than the fast two-and-out second that doomed them in final 12 months’s Faculty World Sequence.
There was the 23-game win streak that carried them to a 31-1 begin. The 27-2 drubbing in a sweep of Mississippi State, final 12 months’s nationwide champion, within the ultimate weekend of the Southeastern Convention common season. The Volunteers’ first SEC event title in 27 years. And the group’s No. 1 designation within the NCAA event, the best seed in program historical past.
There was switch Chase Dollander holding opponents to 2 or fewer runs for 4 consecutive begins, giving up 4 runs in his subsequent outing, then assembling one other stretch of six begins with two or fewer runs allowed. There was Trey Lipscomb’s season-long hit parade, Drew Gilbert’s spicy bat flips and Jorel Ortega’s breakout. And there have been so many viral moments that merely invoking reliever Ben Joyce’s 105 mph fastball and outfielder Jordan Beck’s alter ego, Mike Honcho, wouldn’t be sufficient to cowl all of them.
Jordan Beck. Mike Honcho.
— Tennessee Baseball (@Vol_Baseball) April 7, 2022
All of that glory, but the Volunteers’ potential to beat adversity is what stands out to Lipscomb, the senior infielder who waited three years behind draft picks Andre Lipcius and Jake Rucker to obtain an opportunity to assemble a standout season of his personal.
Lipscomb had an early-season cycle in opposition to Iona, one he didn’t know he was placing collectively till he slid into third base on a triple and noticed the ball thrown into Tennessee’s dugout. He grew to become the primary in this system to hit no less than 20 residence runs since 2009. However after briefly acknowledging the cycle when requested about what second on the plate from the season stood out to him after the Volunteers clinched the convention championship in Hoover, Ala., he converted to the mid-April ejections of head coach Tony Vitello and pitching coach Frank Anderson.
Anderson was thrown out of Tennessee’s April 16 sport in opposition to Alabama after Dollander took a comebacker off his proper elbow within the first inning. Anderson, who rushed onto the sphere after Dollander crumpled to the grass, was visibly upset with members of the Alabama teaching employees and was ejected after arguing with umpires. Vitello got here to Anderson’s protection and was ejected for his hassle. Then he chest-bumped the umpire who tossed him, incurring an automated suspension.
Vitello, Tennessee’s much-lauded chief, missed a further 4 video games after his ejection. However his group, which had been ranked the No. 1 group within the nation by D1Baseball.com for 3 weeks, didn’t shrink in his absence. The Volunteers gained the 2 remaining video games in opposition to Alabama and retained their rating regardless of opening the sequence with a loss. Then they gained their subsequent three video games. With out Vitello on the helm, Tennessee outscored opponents 44-11 and held different groups to a .170 common.
“These guys have been our leaders,” defined Lipscomb, a Dick Howser Trophy finalist who ranked eighty fifth in Keith Regulation’s analysis of the top-100 prospects for this summer time’s MLB Draft. “When Coach V and Coach A each bought tossed from Alabama, they took one thing of ours that was a key attribute to our group away. So now we’re gonna must go deal with it. And I feel that’s how we went about it.”
Vitello had delivered a message on his method out of the dugout following his ejection. “Go win this sport,” Lipscomb recalled listening to. The Volunteers didn’t lose a lot after that. They went 13-4 and misplaced just one sequence the remainder of the way in which. They entered the SEC Event on Could 26 nonetheless ranked the No. 1 group within the nation, with a 49-7 file. They swept the winners bracket, hosted their second straight regionals and swept via that, too.
The Volunteers, now the winners of a program-record 56 video games, will play Notre Dame within the Tremendous Regionals at residence for an opportunity to return to the Faculty World Sequence beginning Friday night time. A sequence win would ship Tennessee again to Omaha for a second consecutive 12 months; the group has by no means made back-to-back journeys to the World Sequence.
The Volunteers might have identified for months that they possessed the expertise to problem for an NCAA title. However they haven’t let complacency set in, one thing some on the group felt they did after they romped via Regionals and Tremendous Regionals with a 5-0 file final 12 months. Upon arrival in Omaha, Tennessee misplaced two video games in a row and had its keep — its first since 2005 — lower brief.
“It was our first time doing it, so everyone was completely satisfied to be within the postseason, quite than being within the current and truly attacking the groups like we must always,” Gilbert mentioned. “This 12 months, we sort of anticipate to do issues versus it was a shock after we did it earlier than.”
In different phrases, the Volunteers haven’t been too shocked to deal with any of the adversity that has cropped up. When a shoulder damage stored high pitching prospect Blake Tidwell out of the beginning rotation for nearly two months, freshmen Chase Burns and Drew Beam stepped in to patch over the emptiness. Beam, Tennessee’s typical Sunday starter, flirted with perfection in his first SEC begin, holding South Carolina hitless till the seventh body of a one-hit, 7 2/3-inning efficiency. He carries a 2.72 ERA and an opponents’ batting common of .186 into the Tremendous Regionals. Burns, who took on Fridays, earlier this week was named Collegiate Baseball’s co-freshman of the 12 months after posting a 2.69 ERA in 16 video games (13 begins) and putting out 32 p.c of batters confronted in 73 2/3 innings. Rockies nice Todd Helton was the final Tennessee participant to earn that first-year acclaim.
When Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin known as for an inspection of Beck’s bat again in April, resulting in the outfielder’s first-inning homer being negated as a result of the bat was lacking a required sticker, Tennessee largely laughed the matter off. Vitello, who stormed onto the sphere throughout the inspection, joked throughout an in-game interview later in that April 1 sport that Beck had cast his transcripts and was in actuality Mike Honcho, a faux identify utilized by John C. Reilly’s character within the film “Talladega Nights.” Beck was slightly fierier in his feedback following Tennessee’s 6-2 win: “I’d say the opposite ball that I hit within the hole too was hit fairly nicely and that was with a unique bat, too. The bats don’t matter. You possibly can give us wooden bats and it actually doesn’t matter to us. We’ve bought an explosive group and we’re going to maintain doing it this 12 months.”
— Karthik Venkataraman (@KarthikV_) April 2, 2022
Certainly. Beck had hit 14 homers by the top of the SEC event. He added two within the Volunteers’ regional sport in opposition to Alabama State. He’s one in all 9 Tennessee gamers with a double-digit residence run whole. Tennessee’s 150 homers on the season is the best whole amongst all Division I colleges by a margin of 13.
Tennessee has been daring and the group has irked some with its brashness. However the Volunteers’ different choice this 12 months was to play scared and fear. Fear they’d lose one other key member of the group to a long-term damage or fail to get down successful or safe an out in a important state of affairs. Such timidness wouldn’t have been tolerated by a head coach who has been identified to liken gamers who exude grit to UFC fighters who shrug off a punch within the mouth solely to rebound for a win. And it definitely wouldn’t gotten the Volunteers this far.
“You may respect the individuals throughout from you,” Beck mentioned, “however the greatest factor is you possibly can’t worry ’em.”
(Photograph: John Amis / Related Press)