The top-ranked Tennessee Volunteers clinched the fourth outright Southeastern Conference regular-season championship in program history—its first since 1995—after Tennessee defeated Georgia, 9-2, and Vanderbilt beat Arkansas, 9-6, in extra innings Friday night.
Under the direction of Coach of the Year candidate Tony Vitello and his incredible staff, the Volunteers have displayed excellence from the very start of SEC action, sweeping the first four series of conference play, including series on the road at then-No. 1 Ole Miss and then-No. 3 Vanderbilt. When UT finally suffered its first conference setback, a home loss to Alabama 13 games into league play, the Vols responded with a six-game conference win streak, highlighted by a sweep of Florida in Gainesville, courtesy of late heroics at the plate by Christian Moore and a fabulous play from Christian Scott to end the extra-innings series finale.
Tennessee opened the SEC season 18-1, the best start to begin conference play of any team in the history of SEC baseball. The Volunteers surpassed their own record, a 16-1 start from the 1951 College World Series team, which was the first year the Vols won the SEC crown.
The Volunteers dominated league play with an elite mix of incredible hitting and excellent pitching. Tennessee has already crushed the program record of 108 single-season home runs, smashing 122 as of Friday.
On the mound, the Big Orange arms have been extraordinary in a multitude of ways. From starting pitching to the bullpen, high-leverage situations to shutting it down late, the Vol arms have gotten it done. The staff leads the nation with a 2.25 ERA and has accumulated 559 punchouts across 459 innings, while surrendering just 120 walks.
Tennessee’s loaded starting rotation of pitchers Drew Beam, Chase Burns, Chase Dollander and Blade Tidwell have collected a 23-2 record. Add in southpaw Zander Sechrist, who has been the primary midweek starter, and the Volunteer rotation owns a 27-2 record with a 2.26 ERA and a WHIP of 0.90.
The stable of bullpen arms has proved just as impressive as any other unit on the team. Tennessee’s bullpen holds a 2.19 ERA over 226 innings with a 18-4 record and has 281 strikeouts. 13 pitchers who have come on in relief hold an ERA under 3.00 while a six-man core of arms, who each have over 20 appearances, individually own sub-2.60 ERAs. Fireballer Ben Joyce has been a sight to be seen, lighting up the radar gun with each outing, but crafty Redmond Walsh is just two saves away from the program record in career saves. Mark McLaughlin, Kirby Connell, Will Mabrey and Camden Sewell have also enjoyed incredible successes out of the Tennessee bullpen.
innings with a 18-4 record and has 281 strikeouts. 13 pitchers who have come on in relief hold an ERA under 3.00 while a six-man core of arms, who each have over 20 appearances, individually own sub-2.60 ERAs. Fireballer Ben Joyce has been a sight to be seen, lighting up the radar gun with each outing, but crafty Redmond Walsh is just two saves away from the program record in career saves. Mark McLaughlin, Kirby Connell, Will Mabrey and Camden Sewell have also enjoyed incredible successes out of the Tennessee bullpen.
Ten players on the club that have played more than 30 games this season are batting better than .300, while the team has posted a .307 average and a slugging percentage of .603. Trey Lipscomb, an SEC Player of the Year candidate, has had a breakout season manning the hot corner, leading the team in hits (67), runs (55), homers (20), RBIs (70) and total bases (147). The senior leads the entire conference in home runs, RBIs and total bases – all this after recording only 17 hits in his first three years on Rocky Top.
Lipscomb highlights a collective effort of Tennessee’s order to score early and score often. Jordan Beck, Jorel Ortega and Drew Gilbert each have more than 50 hits on the year and are posting career seasons entering postseason play. Beck has mashed 13 home runs and driven in 46 RBIs, while Ortega has 11 big flies of his own. Gilbert, batting in the cleanup spot, has driven in 47 runners, the second-highest total on the squad, and has delivered 23 extra base hits this year.
The big boppers of East Tennessee, in total, have six players with double-digit homers. Joining Lipscomb, Beck and Ortega are Luc Lipcius (12), Evan Russell (12) and Cortland Lawson (10).
Tennessee enters the final weekend of the regular season as the No. 1 RPI team in the country and is vying for its highest NCAA Championship seed in program history, looking to return to Omaha for a second straight season and the sixth time in program history.
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