Jun. 23—And that was that.
A Tennessee baseball season containing 50 wins, a Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title and five consecutive wins to open NCAA tournament play ended abruptly Tuesday afternoon with an 8-4 loss to Texas in a College World Series elimination game. The Volunteers racked up seven walk-off victories and six extra-inning triumphs this season, but there would be no such magic at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, as they were outscored 14-4 in their two appearances.
Tennessee was more competitive against the Longhorns compared to its 6-0 opening loss to Virginia on Sunday, but it was a much quicker trip than the Vols had planned.
“I don’t know,” Vols designated hitter Pete Derkay said on a Zoom call afterward when asked to explain the rapid exit. “Sometimes baseball is a crazy game. The first game, we kind of just didn’t show up and play like we were capable of doing and got surprised a little bit. Then today, I mean, they were the better team. They capitalized on a little more situations and made some plays when they really needed to.
“I would say that’s about it.”
Tennessee reached the College World Series for just the fifth time in program history and won at least 50 games for a third occasion, and there were some new standards set by Tony Vitello’s fourth team as well. The Vols won a record 16 true road games, and they swept all five of their SEC road series for the very first time.
Yet the momentum the Vols carried into Omaha disappeared quicker than stolen luggage.
“Obviously we would like to do better next time, but we don’t want to have our kids to have any sort of guilt,” Vitello said. “They’re good kids. What makes a good team is when you have each other’s back and you want to see the guy next to you succeed more than you want it for yourself.
“It was a disappointing day, and probably a lot of social media stuff can make these guys seem like they want to be the bad boys, but they’re just a bunch of kids that want to win for each other.”
A 0-0 first inning left Tennessee (50-18) scoreless through its first 10 innings of this College World Series, but the Vols changed that in the second inning when Drew Gilbert led off with a single to center field, Luc Lipcius drew a one-out walk, and Jordan Beck doubled to left to score Gilbert and move Lipcius to third.
Derkay’s ground out to first base then scored Lipcius for a 2-0 Tennessee advantage.
Texas, however, wiped out that deficit and forged ahead in the bottom of the second, when Eric Kennedy launched a three-run home run to right. The Vols loaded the bases in the third inning with nobody out, but Gilbert hit into a rare 5-2-3 double play, and the Longhorns (48-16) came away unscathed.
Connor Pavolony and Liam Spence produced RBI singles in the fourth inning to pull even at 4-4, but Texas countered with three in the fourth and wasn’t threatened again. In fact, the Vols collected only three hits the rest of the contest against Longhorns reliever Tanner Witt.
Freshman Blade Tidwell got the start for the Vols and allowed four runs on two hits while walking two. Sean Hunley replaced Tidwell and struggled, allowing three runs on three hits before recording three outs.
“I think Blade was throwing the ball all right,” Vitello said. “They were on him for whatever reason. I think he was getting frustrated about certain things, and then there were just a handful of pitches where he didn’t have the conviction that I’ve seen out of him in the past few weeks.
“That was just kind of my read.”
In LSU’s picture?
Vitello was asked after Tuesday’s game if he has had any conversations about the opening at LSU.
“No, I’ve not,” Vitello said. “I’ve had zero, and I just made an idiot out of myself, at least for all the masculine folks watching, by getting teary-eyed about these kids. That’s where my focus has been.”
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.