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Vols lose in SEC Baseball Tournament but Tennessee still very alive

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Tennessee fell to Vanderbilt in the opening round of the SEC Tournament and, you know what? Vol fans should be fine with that.

“Why?”, you might ask after the 13-4 loss to the Commodores. Here’s why. Simple. I’ve never seen an SEC baseball tournament trophy held in high regard and, chances are, I never will. I’m not suggesting Tennessee coach Tony Vitello should or is throwing the SEC Tournament, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. In fact, it may have already been done before.

I suspect Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes wasn’t all that upset when the Vols lost to Mississippi State in the first round of the SEC Basketball Tournament. After all, the Vols ended up making it to the Elite Eight with a fresh team. Does anyone lament the loss to State now? Do you even remember it? Let me remind you.

The Vols lost 73-56 in the opening game of the SEC Basketball Tournament to the Bulldogs. Yes, it was ugly – just like the Vols loss on the diamond on Wednesday. Alas, the No. 1-seeded Vols will face elimination when they play No. 5 Mississippi State on Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m. EST. 

Tennessee has already won the regular season in baseball so those on the NCAA Tournament selection committee will surely take that into account when they place the Vols in the “real” tournament on Sunday. If the Vols are upset and knocked out of the tournament, it would be no cause for celebration. However, an early exit would mean fresher pitching arms when the season is truly on the line. Based on the Vols’ outing against Vandy, the Vols could use as many fresh arms as they can get.

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In line with that thought process, Vitello didn’t seem overly upset after the loss to the Commodores on Wednesday, although he certainly didn’t concede that the Vols lost on purpose.

“Pretty basic,” he said after the game. “They played better than we did. Coached better.”


Vitello was quick to point out that all was not lost against Vandy, despite the one-sided score. The Vols returned sophomore righthander A.J. Russell, who made his return from injury by throwing a scoreless sixth inning despite having to work out of some trouble. Russell allowed the first two batters to reach base. The Franklin, Tenn., native then struck out the ‘Dores final batter to get out of the inning. Russell returning to form would be a boost before the NCAA Tournament begins next week.

“Guys getting out there was huge,” Vitello said, partially referring to Russell, but also referencing players getting a taste of tournament play. “I think (sophomore Andrew) Behnke gets us out of a jam. I think he’s capable of doing that…There’s some obvious positives in AJ.”

The SEC Baseball Tournament is a chance to improve one’s seeding in the NCAA Tournament. However, Vitello seems okay with whatever happens in Hoover this week. 

When asked about Russell’s pitch count and if he’d be used again if the Vols make a run in the tournament, Vitello said, “Yeah, best-case scenario, if we stick around long enough, he would be able to do that. If not, then he’ll just jump into a situation where he can face hitters again. We’re kind of beat up with the whole bullpen situation, so having guys standing in there I think is beneficial for him.”

That sounds like Russell may be done unless the Vols make it into the weekend. It also sounds like Vitello is just fine not having to make that decision, that he’d be just fine headed home. Who could blame him if that’s the case? After all, no SEC Tournament championship will be celebrated in Knoxville. The Vols want a bigger prize. Achieving a College World Series championship might be possible for this group of Vols. Being fresh headed the NCAA Tournament can only help.

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One Response

  1. If-and I emphasize IF Tony V is “throwing” the tournament, then he’s not the man I thought. Champions and coaches of champions are expected to do all they can to Win every game. To do less is disrespectful to the fan base and shows a lack of character and integrity. If the Vandy game was indicative of how this team can be totally overcome- then UT has a big problem going into the NCAA tournament.

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