BY JIME STEELE
Tennessee found out Sunday that Omaha’s T.D. Ameritrade Stadium isn’t the launching pad that Lindsey Nelson Stadium is in Knoxville.
The third-seeded team in the College World Series dropped the chalupa in a big way. Virginia hung a bagel on the Vols, a 6-0 setback in the opening round of the double-elimination tournament. The Vols have their backs to the wall.
Call me Captain Obvious.
Tennessee, in a word, stunk. It left too many men on base and didn’t look like the team that surged to the SEC East title. There is a reason for that, perhaps.
The Vols, while on paper, probably better than Virginia, have zero CWS experience. The last time UT was in Omaha was 2005, when most of these players were in tee ball and had no inkling about a college baseball career.
Meanwhile, Virginia was the 2016 national champ and the residue from that triumph is still fairly fresh in Charlottesville. Playing in the CWS is stepping on to a much larger stage.
And Tennessee got exposed.
Had it not been for COVID-19, the Vols very likely would have made the venture to Nebraska a year ago. What a treasure trove of experience that would have been. But reality will have its way and the Vols are adjusting to the bright lights. Maybe when they play again (and this paper will have published by then, so as of now, those results aren’t known and I’m in no mood to rummage for my Ouija Board).
Maybe Tennessee can return to the form that got it to Omaha.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt had a marathon against Arizona. The Commodores needed 12 innings to subdue the Wildcats, but both teams went through a lot of pitching to get the win. When you are involved in a double-elimination tournament, pitching is paramount. Vanderbilt has two good starting hurlers, but that third spot may be suspect. The downfall of so many teams in these types of events is pitching management.
If you are a Vandy fan, you just hope they have enough arms to get the job done. The good news is that the Commodores are in the winners’ bracket, which allows them a little more rest and latitude.
I warned UT fans that this edition of the Vols may not be ready to be great yet. Sure, they are edging closer to that plateau, but being novices to the national stage may require some adjustment. I said from the beginning that Tennessee could win it all, or could be two-and-through.
There is a silver lining for the Big Orange faithful, though. Twelve times, teams who lost the first game of the College World Series rallied to win it all.
Could the Vols be lucky No. 13?
Editor’s note: Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox, which airs 4-6 p.m., Monday-Thursday on WRJB, 95.9 FM, Camden.