This Week in UT Sports History – Feb. 17th-23rd

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Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little

Baseball season is in full swing, and the Vols came out slugging with shutout wins against Western Illinois on Friday and Saturday before a massive 23-4 win on Sunday in Knoxville. The Vols earned their highest run totals under third-year head coach Tony Vitello in Saturday’s match-up when the Vols won 19-0 with two three-run homers from Zach Daniels and Austin Knight highlighting the afternoon. The following day, UT broke again set the bar in the Vitello era, scoring 23 runs.

Meanwhile, the No. 25 Lady Vols basketball team lost a last-minute heartbreaker to No. 16 Texas A&M after battling back to close the score within four points. Tennessee lost 73-71 in Thompson-Boling Arena for the team’s fourth consecutive conference loss. The men’s basketball team also fell in a close one, losing 63-61 on the road to South Carolina.

As spring sports continue, take a look back at moments in their pasts in “This Week in UT Sports History.”

Feb. 17, 2001

The Baseball Vols held West Virginia to five runs in their fifth win of the season to start the 2001 season. But three remained the magic number. Playing in the Citadel Classic in Charleston, South Carolina, two-time All-American Chris Burke fell one triple short of a school record when he smashed the ball in the third and fourth innings to drive in five runs as the Vols went on to win 12-5. Three consecutive triples from Burke, Stevie Daniel, and Ryan Moffett rounded out the fourth to give No. 25 Tennessee a commanding lead halfway through the Vols’ 16-hit game.

By the time the Mountaineers rounded the bags in the sixth and seventh, Tennessee still held a 5-run lead, 10-5. Pitcher Brian Gates earned the win, giving up two earned runs (and three total) on five hits. He struck out six Mountaineers on the afternoon in the first game of his junior season. Shoulder issues had kept him in the dugout during his sophomore season.

Before the season began, head coach Rod Delmonico remained optimistic about his third-year pitcher.

“Gates has recovered from arthroscopic surgery last summer and has a shot to be the No. 2 guy,” Delmonico said. Senior co-captain Devon Nicholson held the No. 1 spot having undergone right shoulder surgery in 1999 but recovering to become a “battler on the hill.”

The Vols dropped their final game of the tournament against the Citadel the following day, 15-2. However, Delmonico’s squad bounced back that season, eventually making the College World Series for the third time in school history, six years after their last appearance. The Vols finished the season 48-20 overall with a conference record of 18-12.

Burke remains the only Vol to earn first team All-American honors at two positions. He played both second base and shortstop for the Vols. The Houston Astros selected Burke 10th overall in the first round of the 2001 Major League Baseball Draft. The Southeastern Conference named him Player of the Year in 2001 with a .435 batting average including 20 home runs and 60 RBI. He notably hit a walk-off home run in the 2005 National League Division series. The game against the Atlanta Braves went into 18 innings before Burke ended the series.

Tennessee and West Virginia maintain common baseball connections. Former Vol head coach Dave Serrano served as a pitching coach at WVU for one season following his coaching tenure at Tennessee. Serrano worked at Tennessee as an assistant in 1995 (a College World Series season) and 1996 before a stint as head coach from 2012-17.

Feb. 20, 1989

Vol Baseball earned its way to the postseason in 2001, but the Lady Vols basketball program already had a well-established record of dominance in postseason play by that time. The 1989 season remains special to Tennessee faithful, the second year the Lady Vols won a national championship.

One game in that magical 35-2 season came against Notre Dame at home. The Lady Vols nearly reached the century mark in a 55-point win, 98-43. The No. 3 Lady Vols took a 25-4 lead in the first half by the nine-minute mark. Against Sheila Frost’s 31 points and 12 rebounds, the Fighting Irish failed to put up much of a fight.

The crowd of 8,356 in a relatively new Thompson-Boling Arena roared as the Lady Vols defended their home court. That season, Tennessee never lost in Knoxville.

A Lady Vol name often ignored among the other greats filled a spot on the roster for the match-up. Olympic gold medalist Bridgette Gordon put up 21 points in the game to continue a record of solid scoring. Gordon earned the title of the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player to finish the 1989 season, having also been named SEC Tournament MVP. She holds the No. 2 spot on the all-time scoring list with 2,642 career points as a Lady Vol from 1985-89.

Against Notre Dame, Pat Summitt’s squad shot 55 percent from the field. The Fighting Irish knew entering the match-up the game would not sway in their favor. With a 61-point deficit at the 2:46 mark – down 95-34 – the ladies from South Bend lost all hope.

“Tennessee is an excellent team, and we knew that coming in,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said in an interview for The South Bend Tribune. “We didn’t have anyone who could guard Sheila Frost. We really didn’t have anybody who could guard any of their post players.”

McGraw still coaches the Fighting Irish. Her Notre Dame career began in 1987. Since, she has won two national titles in 2001 and 2018. Kellie Harper’s Lady Vols defeated McGraw’s squad earlier this season, 74-63, in South Bend.

Harper’s coach and hero Pat Summitt cut down the net in 1989, beating Auburn for the NCAA Women’s National Championship title on April 2nd.

Feb. 20, 2010

Twenty-one years to the day after the Lady Vols defeated Notre Dame, Brad Craig claimed an SEC title in the 200m breaststroke. Competing against the best in the SEC and NCAA in Athens, Georgia, Craig sat in the fifth-place seed in the preliminary round. He decided fifth failed to live up to his expectations.

NCAA champion Adam Klein of Auburn emerged from the pool defeated as Craig took the title with a season-best 1:55.53 mark. Everyone seemed stunned, including Craig.

“I didn’t know right away,” Craig said in an interview for utsports.com. “I could hear everybody cheering, and then it slowly started to dawn on me that I won. It just shows that our training really works.”

Auburn took the team title with 784 points over Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee to round out the top four. But a Vol beating the Tigers’ defending national champion gave Tennessee and head coach John Trembley a much-needed win. Trembley called it the highlight of the meet, saying Craig proved his warrior status with a nearly flawless race.

Again, the postseason proved fruitful for a Tennessee team.

The 2020 SEC Championships kick off tomorrow in Auburn, Alabama and run through Saturday.

Lexie Little
Lexie Little is a journalist from Kingsport, Tennessee, who holds a Bachelor of Communication degree from the University of Tennessee with majors in both Journalism & Electronic Media and French & Francophone Studies. She's a contributor to RTI and writes the weekly column "The Week in UT Sports History." Lexie formerly worked as a feature writer for VIPSEEN Magazine and continues to freelance for various publications as she earns her master's degree from the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.