Tony Vitello took the time to watch Tennessee’s baseball players celebrate after Sunday’s 15-6 victory over LSU. The joyous scrum that ensued after the Vols’ earned their spot in the College World Series was a sight to behold for a program that hadn’t enjoyed such a moment in 16 years.
Vitello, UT’s coach, reported that everyone made it out of the pile-up unscathed.
He was concerned about two of his pitchers, beginning with Camden Sewell. The former Cleveland High standout took the mound to start the ninth inning for his second inning of relief. Vitello said Sewell’s nickname is “Bones,” which references his lanky frame.
With chaos imminent, Vitello didn’t want “Bones” getting bruised or worse and thought: “Just don’t hurt the guy.”
Replacing Sewell with 155-pound Redmond Walsh before the inning’s end didn’t ease the coach’s concerns. Walsh isn’t built for contact either. Vitello imagined Sewell and Walsh squaring off in a UFC bout and joked, “I don’t anybody’s going to pay-per-view for that one.”
In the end, only LSU suffered any damage. Tennessee’s hitters were flexing their might throughout the afternoon, hitting six home runs. Their work ensured the lightheartedness of UT’s postgame recap. It also had outfielder Evan Russell, who hit one of the homers, thinking ahead to Monday and lifting weights.
“I don’t think anybody wants this to end,” he said.
This Tennessee team might have a better crack at a happy ending than any of the four other UT teams that previously made the trek to Omaha, Neb. While these Vols don’t have someone like Todd Helton or Luke Hochevar in their ranks, they have a lot of depth and versatility. The Super Regional showcased their capabilities.
UT got through a dicey 5-3 victory on Saturday night on the strength of pitchers Chad Dallas and Sean Hunley, who combined to allow just eight hits while striking out 16. Hunley struck out LSU’s Jordan Thompson to end it, stranding two baserunners in scoring position.
Russell thought that Saturday’s pitchers inspired UT’s hitters for Sunday.
“I think it kind of carried over in a funny way,” Russell said. “The hitters were like ‘Hey, we’ve got your back. We owed you one.’ ”
Former Vol Chris Burke, who helped lead the Vols to the 2001 CWS, thinks such debts will be harder to settle at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. He doesn’t believe baseballs will be flying out of there with the same frequency as they did Sunday at Tennessee’s Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“I’d expect home runs to still be in play in Omaha,” Burke said during Sunday’s ESPN2 telecast. “But I think Tennessee is going to have to find other ways to score.”
The Vols needed five SEC tournament games to hit seven homers and top Sunday's single-game total. Yet they scored in double figures twice in Hoover, Ala., and reached the championship game.
They allowed two runs or fewer in three of those games, including two shutouts.
In four postseason appearances, Sewell now has thrown 13.1 scoreless innings. “Bones” has been plenty sturdy lately.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com.