“I think they want to be tested and I think they want to be challenged. It doesn’t matter the opponent’s brand name or whether you are home or away, you are going to be challenged. It’s baseball. It’s a challenge, and I think our team members look forward to it and like when the fire is a little hotter. We will have the opportunity to prove it.
Read this quote Tony Vitello offered ahead of trips from Tennessee to Ole Miss and Vanderbilt — back-to-back weekends that include the Vols’ two biggest series this regular season.
Then go back and read the quote again.
Now consider Vitello’s words with the perspective of what “No.” 5” Tennessee did it against the Rebels, who really didn’t seem like a challenge for most of this weekend.
12-1 Friday. 10-3 Saturday. 4-3 Sunday.
Not only did the Vols prove themselves against Ole Miss, they swept the ‘top team’ in the country down the road with such enthusiasm that Mike Bianco’s club were left stumbling and dazed for most of those three days. , trying to piece together what had just happened.
“We need to come out with more confidence,” Ole Miss reliever Dylan Delucia said Saturday, looking and sounding more like a giddy record breaker than an SEC ace. “We went out relaxed both times.”
Delucia’s quotes were certainly more fiery on Friday, as he guaranteed a win on Saturday and that would be “much better.”
Except it wasn’t.
Almost nothing went well for the rebels, who appeared just as shocked, confused and overstated as some now claim.
Were they actually flat for 25 out of 27 rounds this weekend? Yes. Are they overrated? Probably yes, considering this is a team that lost to Southeast Louisiana and Oral Roberts.
But is Tennessee also better than last season, more talented than most can comprehend (hence the easy crutch of Ole Miss being overrated) and honestly awesome enough to start looking for hotels in Omaha for the second summer in a row? Yeah.
This was also the case before this reporting weekend.
Entering the series, Tennessee ranked first in the SEC in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs, hits, home runs, stolen bases, and ERA.
They also placed first in four of those categories (slugging, on-base percentage, homers and ERA) among NCAA DI teams, while remaining close at third, second, fourth and tied for 33rd in batting average, runs, hits and stolen bases, respectively.
So, yeah – these Vols were talented before Oxford, so good they were already ranked No. 1 in a poll: Perfect Game.
The real question, however, was whether Tennessee’s numbers were inflated due to the size of Lindsey Nelson Stadium — as Delucia spitefully alluded to on Friday — and whether all of that young talent could survive a real road environment. in the SEC.
Consider that this first challenge was met and passed with flying colors.
On Friday, Tennessee upped its home run total to 64 with five strikes that made Swayze Field look like a driving range.
Scroll to continue
On Saturday, the Vols played short-ball with 12 hits for 10 runs to clinch the series, as well as their best start in SEC play since 1966.
And the Sunday ? Tennessee closed out its second conference sweep of the season with an RBI double and triple from Drew Gilbert and Luc Lipcius, respectively, before taking the win defensively.
Speaking of defense, let’s also not forget UT’s outstanding throw.
Freshman Chase Burns reminded us again on Friday that he should be in the pros right now. Then Chase Dollander followed suit on Saturday, and Drew Beam dominated on Sunday — no runs allowed in his first two SEC starts — before Redmond Walsh slammed the door when the Rebels made things interesting.
In total, the Vols staff forced the Rebels to 40 strikeouts with just two walks.
That production is without even considering ace Blade Tidwell, who was active — and warmed up in the bullpen — this weekend but has yet to make his season debut.
In other words, the Vitello club lived up to the eye-opening analysis from sixth-year senior Walsh last Thursday afternoon: “They’re the most talented team in which I think I have been playing since I’ve been here.”
Such talent and the resulting success should certainly justify a surge in the polls for Tennessee next Monday.
Time and time again at Oxford, the Vols have shown why they deserve college baseball’s top spot.
But they also stayed true to their roots – consistency, swagger, and villainy – which became staples in the magical, seductive culture recipe that Vitello perfected.
Exhibit A: When UT cheered at the Lane Kiffin golf ball field as they pulled out a bottle of mustard as part of a home run celebration for Jared Dickey.
Exhibit B: Later Friday night when Vitello put Ben Joyce’s arm at 104 miles per hour in the game with his team already ahead 10-0.
Exhibit C: When Tennessee overcame a field error by Jorel Ortega on Sunday to win the sweep, winning in a way that only such a stubborn, relentless team can.
Since the ‘Daddy’ pimp hat and coat are seen after every home run, we may have to wait until next weekend for more examples of this team’s juice.
However, the point remains: the Vitello club has an identity to envy.
Now, after a midweek clash against West Carolina, Tennessee will bring that aura to Nashville for its second Test in as many weekends against a Vanderbilt team that lost two of three to South Carolina. – which the Vols swept last weekend.
We can be sure that Tennessee will take Vanderbilt seriously, because any team with Tim Corbin in the dugout and Enrique Bradfield on the base paths deserves special attention.
As for the Commodores, or any other enemy of the conference for that matter? Don’t take these Thefts as lightly as Ole Miss apparently did.
After all, this Tennessee team deserves at least one full and thriving weekend with the kind of serious challenge they seem to welcome.