Tennessee fans know postseason play is fraught with uncertainty. They were painfully reminded of that two months ago when their men’s basketball team was jettisoned from the NCAA Tournament in the second round.
The upset loss to Michigan was more jarring because of the success that preceded it. Tennessee had won 16 of its 18 previous games and further proved its mettle by winning the SEC Tournament, which had some fans envisioning a Final Four run.
The abrupt ending to UT’s basketball season will likely have a carryover effect with fans when UT’s baseball team begins its postseason venture.
TENNESSEE BASEBALL:No. 1 Tennessee baseball finishes regular season with sweep of Mississippi State, football themes
More:Vols’ Jorel Ortega used to sleep at Tennessee baseball’s stadium to find himself again. It worked.
More:Throwing 105.5 mph: How Tennessee’s Ben Joyce became college baseball’s unexpected pitching sensation
Never mind that the Vols have been No. 1 for much of the season or won the SEC regular-season championship. That does not assure postseason success.
The Vols will begin postseason play Wednesday in the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama. They will also be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament that follows.
Tournament play can be as unpredictable in baseball as any other sport. If your best pitcher has a bad day or an opposing pitcher has a career day, that’s all it would take for a favorite to be knocked off the bracket in a double-elimination tournament.
But regardless of how Tennessee’s bid for a second consecutive College World Series goes, its fans should take time to savor the best regular season in school history.
The Vols will enter the SEC Tournament with a 49-7 record (25-5 in the SEC). They did not just win the SEC regular-season championship. They dominated the nation’s strongest conference.
They even impressed the competition.
“The way other teams talk about Tennessee… I do not know that I have ever heard that,” said former Vols player Chris Burke, who is a baseball analyst for ESPN and the SEC Network. “Nobody ever talks about an opponent in such glowing terms.”
Statistics reflect the disparity between the Vols and the rest of the SEC.
Tennessee leads the SEC in batting average, slugging percentage, bases on balls, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, runs, and RBIs.
Its pitchers have been as effective as its hitters. The Vols lead the conference in ERA, strikeouts, fewest walks allowed and lowest opponents batting average.
No wonder opponents are impressed.
UT’s individual stats are dazzling, too. Starting pitchers Chase Dollander, Chase Burns and Drew Beam have a combined record of 23-2. Ten pitchers who have worked at least 20 innings have an ERA under 2.70. Reliever Kirby Connell leads the way with a 1.17 ERA for 27.1 innings.
Tennessee pitchers have been as adept at preventing home runs as their lineup has been at hitting them. The Vols have outhomered the competition 137-51.
Trey Lipscomb has a team-leading 21 home runs, but seven other players have double-figure home run totals. Two freshman, Blake Burke and Christian Moore, have 10 homers apiece in a combined 177 at-bats.
Not all of UT’s success can be measured by stats. Pitcher Ben Joyce made national news when his fastball reached 103 miles per hour. He made more news when he hit 105.5 miles per hour on the radar gun.
Joyce could be pitching in the major leagues in September. Other Vols could eventually make the major leagues. And when they do, Tennessee fans can reflect on the greatest baseball regular season in school history.
Nothing that happens in the postseason will change that.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.