Dan Fleser: Under-Performing Vols Don't Get Seeded, But Have A Shot In Clemson Regional

  • Monday, May 29, 2023
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

Tennessee was part of an impressive SEC baseball showing Monday when the NCAA tournament field was announced. The role played by the Vols, though, was the diamond equivalent of a cameo appearance.

Tennessee was not among the conference’s eight seeded teams, which set a record. The Vols had to be satisfied with being one of 10 SEC teams in the 64-team field, which tied a record.

The Vols (38-19) will play in the Clemson regional, where they will face Charlotte at 6 p.m. on Friday. Host Clemson, the No. 4 national seed, will play Lipscomb in the other first-round game. The Tigers have a 16-game winning streak.

The winner of the regional will play the winner of Auburn’s regional in a Super Regional.

The Vols’ presence is a far cry from last year, when they were the top national seed. It’s a different year and maybe that’s not entirely a bad thing. Last year’s team didn’t look comfortable playing the role of favorite and bowed out against Notre Dame in the Super Regionals. A lower profile doesn’t necessarily diminish the Vols’ chances of advancing.

Tennessee played 22 games against the other SEC teams in the tournament field and went 11-11. The Vols were 7-3 in the last 10, including two victories at South Carolina. They finished with a 3-0 loss to Texas A&M last week in the first game of the SEC tournament. The Aggies advanced to the tournament final, losing to Vanderbilt.

UT coach Tony Vitello had little choice but to search for something positive in the aftermath of the A&M loss. Recent SEC baseball history helped his objective. Ole Miss barely made the field last season and won the national championship. Mississippi State was an at-large team in 2021 and celebrated in Omaha. Vitello wisely noted that those achievements had a lot to do with those teams. But he also reiterated the postseason preparation afforded by SEC competition and how a break from that grind can help.

“In my opinion, the league prepares you,” Vitello said. “There’s nothing you have not seen. No fan is going to make a comment, no amount of fans, no noise, no facility, no pitching, no hitter. You’re going to see everything in this league. So, it prepares you. I think that’s one of the reasons you often see a bunch of teams from our league in Omaha. But the league in doing that, or preparing you, also beats you up a little bit. So, to recover and kind of get some rest time . . . I think it helps people a lot.

"To me (Ole Miss and Mississippi State) probably had a little bit of their own thing going. But I think it’s worked for other (SEC) teams as well and I think it’s that combination of preparation and rest.”

Softball: Tennessee versus Alabama at noon Thursday in the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City says a lot about SEC softball as well.

The Lady Vols and Crimson Tide have met four times previously this season with UT winning three of the games.         

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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 1988. He is a 2022 inductee to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.


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