Tennessee received a strong reminder on Sunday afternoon that the competition is fierce at the College World Series.
Virginia first won the battle of the storylines. That victory set the stage for the outcome that mattered most, a 6-0 thrashing of the Vols in the teams’ opening game at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
Cavaliers catcher Logan Michaels played a pivotal role on both fronts.
The graduate student lugged a pedestrian .242 batting average to the batter’s box in the third inning against Vols ace Chad Dallas. Michaels was hitless in eight at-bats last weekend during a Super Regional against Dallas Baptist.
With one swing, Michaels reversed his fortunes by swatting his first home run of the season. He added two more hits, including an RBI single that ignited Virginia’s 4-run surge in the seventh inning.
Nobody enjoyed Michaels’ exploits more than his father, Jeff, who was watching in the stands. Jeff was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three years ago. After surgery and chemotherapy, he had survived to savor a special Father’s Day with his son. He even had the home run ball in hand by game’s end.
“There’s no words for it,” Michaels said in an ESPN interview on the field afterward. “When I hit that homer, I instantly thought of him.”
While the Cavaliers celebrated, the Vols lamented 13 strikeouts and going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
The Vols were back in Omaha for the first time in 16 years, buoyed by 10 postseason homers and their own compelling narrative. After clinching their return trip last Sunday, Tennessee coach Tony Vitello brought a baseball-shaped plaque with him for the postgame interview.
An orange power T is the centerpiece of the plaque’s design. On top is the word “Omaha” while the bottom is inscribed with “920 miles,” which is the distance between Knoxville and the home of the CWS.
Vitello brought the decoration down from its place in his office. The plaque was made by the mother of Meghan Anderson, baseball’s director of student services and operations. Meghan’s mother Marcia died of colon cancer in 2019.
Many Vols fans traveled the 920 miles, enough to convene a Vol Walk for the players as they left the hotel on Sunday and walked to the team bus.
The Vols weren’t lacking for credentials or backstory. But they couldn’t muster a timely hit against the Cavaliers and suffered the consequences.
Their best effort came in the fifth when Virginia second baseman Max Cotier leaped to snag Liam Spence’s liner with two baserunners in scoring position. Cavaliers shortstop Nic Kent then ranged behind second base to field Max Ferguson’s grounder and make a leaping throw to first to end the threat.
When asked about Spence’s liner afterward, Vitello said: “My immediate thought was they had him played in the right spot. You make your own luck. So, I don’t believe it was an unlucky break.”
Vitello thought the Vols lacked conviction at key moments.
“We could’ve helped ourselves in situations by being on the attack a little bit more in the proper baseball fashion, in a loose manner or an aggressive manner, than kind of feeling our way through some stuff,” he said.
Tennessee will play an elimination game on Tuesday afternoon.
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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.