baseball Edit

Tennessee looking to simply play good baseball while in Hoover

Tony Vitello’s goal for this year’s SEC Tournament is pretty simple.

“Play good baseball.”

That is, if Tennessee ever gets to play baseball while in Hoover, Alabama.

Mother Nature didn’t take long to leave its mark. Multiple rain delays in day one on Tuesday forced games to be moved back into Wednesday and the Vols were impacted by the postponements.

They were originally scheduled to play at 4:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday afternoon against the winner of 8-seed Vanderbilt and 9-seed Ole Miss, but they’ll now play the Commodores in the final game of the day. Vanderbilt beat the Rebels 3-1 late Tuesday night.

Even with the revised scheduled, it’s still unlikely that the Vols play on Wednesday, as the weather forecast continues to be an issue.

But when it does come time to play baseball, Vitello wants his Vols to simply play good baseball.

“That's three very boring words, but it's kind of what has stuck in my mind,” Vitello told the media on Tuesday. “I would say postseason experience would be No. 2 on the list, for younger guys. It's just different. And I think (Chase Dollander) has been in his conference tournament before. And some other guys have seen action at the JUCO World Series and things like that. But it is just different to experience this SEC tournament, and it is like a playoff vibe for a regional or anything that would follow that. I think dipping your toes in the water there for those young guys would be the other thing.

“And then, third, and I'm doing this one off the cuff, is just continue the preparation part of things. Obviously, during this time of year, we can't do anything crazy at practice. We're not gonna introduce anything incredibly new, but one backbone to the team has been how they approach the weight room, how they approach any extra work that's available or the work that's mandated within a practice. It's kind of been the same every day. And I won't lie to you, it's not like they're geeked up or jacked up every day for BP or anything like that. But they're also not absent or absent-minded from any of that. It's been a kind of a loose but fun group to be around.”

Tennessee swept Vanderbilt in Nashville during the first weekend of April. The Vols outscored the Commodores 16-4 over the three games to become the unanimous No. 1 team in the country for the first time in program history.

It was the third sweep in a row to start conference play for the Vols as they began to put together one of the best regular seasons in program history. They went on to win the SEC East by 10 games, the SEC regular-season title by six games and a program record 49 games.

Vitello’s bunch now looks to carry the consistency of the regular season into the postseason.

“Ultimately, especially this time of year, what goes on in the locker room and in the hotel rooms and all that is so much more powerful than what goes on in a team meeting,” Vitello explained. “You’ve got guys like Evan (Russell) and Drew Gilbert that are obvious leaders. But then you look at Cortland Lawson, and it's like, ‘Man, this guy's a leader.’ And then Trey Lipscomb holds court every meal we have in a conference room. His table’s always full, and he holds court. And Luc (Lipcius) and Redmond (Walsh), their age. We have a bunch of different leaders on this team, and each one of ‘em has their own special kind of schtick or niche that they have.

“I don't think we have one or two captains, I think we’ve got a bunch of guys that are really good leaders, and they've helped maintain.”

Tennessee had great success in Hoover last season, winning four games in four days before losing to Arkansas in the SEC Tournament Championship Game. The sour taste of that loss still lingers and it’s one the Vols would like to get rid of this time around.

“You wouldn’t be a competitor if you didn’t have that in the back of your mind a little bit,” Vitello said. “But I haven't heard any scuttlebutt, and I think this group has really almost kind of gone out of their way to carve out the niche of, ‘We are the 2022 team.’ Last year's team was fun. We've got guys from last year's team. People really liked last year's team. It was successful. But ‘last year’ is the phrase that I keep bringing up that's attached to that.

“This is the here-and-now group, and it's amazing. Some of it’s organically happened. But also, like I said, they kind of had a little edge to ‘em early in their time together of, ‘Hey, we're tired of hearing about last year. Look, this is this year's group.’”

The 2022 Tennessee Volunteer’s SEC Tournament run will begin Wednesday night provided Mother Nature allows them to do so. When it does, sophomore right-hander Blade Tidwell is expected to start for the Vols.