No. 24 Tennessee baseball is coming off a tough series loss to No. 22 Missouri over last weekend, which makes the road ahead much more crucial.
The Vols opened the series with an 11-5 win, but then they fell 6-2 in game two following a two hour and six-minute rain delay. In the series finale on Sunday, Tennessee lost 10-8 despite leading 7-0 after two innings.
Following the weekend and a 9-4 midweek win over Austin Peay on Tuesday evening, the Vols sit at 33-16 on the season and 10-14 in conference play. That’s good enough for fourth place in the SEC East standings.
At 12-11-1 in league play, Missouri is in third place and 2.5 games in front of the Vols in fourth. Tennessee is sandwiched between the Tigers and Florida in the standings, as the Gators are in sole possession of fifth place at 9-15 in the SEC. Florida is 1.0 game back of Tennessee.
With just two weekends remaining in the regular season, Tony Vitello’s squad is projected to make the NCAA Tournament, but they have plenty of work left to do.
In Baseball America’s latest Projected Field of 64, Tennessee is now a 3-seed in the Corvallis Regional with host Oregon State (31-14-1), 2-seed Santa Barbara (37-7). and 4-seed Harvard (25-13).
“Florida hosts Tennessee this weekend in a must-win series for both teams’ at-large chances,” Baseball America says of Tennessee. “Florida is 9-15 in the SEC and Tennessee is 10-14, leaving both teams in scramble mode to get as close to .500 in conference play as possible. The loser this weekend will almost certainly go to the SEC Tournament needing to make a run to reach regionals.”
In last week’s projections, Baseball America had Tennessee as a 2-seed in the Louisville Regional.
D1 Baseball also lists Tennessee as a 3-seed this week following its series loss to Missouri. But the folks at D1 Baseball have the Vols playing in the Chapel Hill Regional with host North Carolina (35-12), two-seed Connecticut (29-19), and four-seed Elon (29-20).
The media outlet also lists Tennessee as the first team of the last five teams in the tournament after having the Vols as a 2-seed in the Chapel Hill Regional in last week’s projections.
“Own it,” Vitello said of what is required in order for Tennessee to make the tournament. “You own it and you put your blinders on for stuff that doesn’t matter like things in the past.
“You look ahead to what the next task is and that’s to have a good practice because we need to go down and compete on Friday.”
Tennessee hasn’t made it to the NCAA Tournament in baseball in over a decade. The last time the Vols earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament was in 2005. That year, the baseball Vols ended up advancing to the College World Series.
First pitch between Tennessee and Florida is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday.