Tennessee baseball’s season only lasted 17 games, but there were still plenty of moments to last the team a lifetime. Head coach Tony Vitello compiled his 10 best memories from the Vols’ 2020 season in a David Letterman style tribute to the players and released a video through the team’s Twitter account.
“To those watching at home, you may not know what some of these are or where they come from if you’re not on the team, but we still hope you enjoy,” Vitello said in the video. “Of course, people of all ages are enjoying, so censorship is key.
“There will be no Drew Gilbert pregame speeches, and we definitely won’t touch on the GroupMe messages exchanged one day between Coach Q (strength coach Quentin Eberhardt) and Alerick (Soularie), but we’ll still have plenty of fun, and we’ll start with No. 10.”
A little late night #content for you night owls…
— Tennessee Baseball (@Vol_Baseball) March 27, 2020
10. Chad Dallas getting the Opening Day start at the last minute
“Chad was groomed to be a reliever, but when duty called with some guys not at 100 percent, he took the ball and led the Vols to victory and became one of a few key JUCO recruits that replaced several pitching superstars from last year in Zach Linginfelter, Garrett Stallings, and Andrew Schultz.”
Garrett Crochet was the likely Opening Day starter for the Vols, but due to shoulder soreness, was forced to miss the first month of the season. Dallas, a junior college signee who was expected to contribute out of the bullpen this season, received the Opening Day start instead.
Dallas was terrific in his first appearance as a Vol. The Orange, Texas native allowed just one hit in 5.0 scoreless innings of work as he picked up the first win of the season. He struck out four and allowed two walks.
9. Evan Russell using his head with reckless abandon
“Late in the season, Evan Russell ran head-first into the shortened right field wall to save a few runs for Tennessee, and earlier in the season, he took a hit by pitch right in the helmet. After a brief pause, he let everyone know he was okay by sprinting to first base. Good work, Evan.”
After all, one must respect all 90 of the feet.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) February 17, 2020
8. Pete Derkay’s entire February
“It didn’t seem like he could literally get out that month, and he put new meaning to the phrase, ‘Hit it where they ain’t.’ Good job by Pete who is one of several guys that has been on the roster during the program’s entire progression and has been a key contributor in doing so.”
Derkay was en fuego at the dish this season. He led the team with a batting average of .542 and in the month of February and was 11-for-15 at the plate as he earned himself a spot in the starting lineup after beginning the season on the bench.
7. The duct-taped bus
“Down in Round Rock, Texas, late after a victory against Texas tech, our team was involved in a car accident, side-swiped by a car. Our bus held up okay, but the next morning, it was duct taped up in order for us to use it again. So, a little bit of comedy after a scary moment. Once we got on that bus, we were able to grind out two more wins down in Texas including one against one of the best pitchers in the country in Alex Williams.”
6. Connor Pavolony’s pinch-hit double at the Round Rock Classic
“One of a few great moments of players contributing off the bench this year and another moment where our bench showed tremendous support when our guys had success on the field.”
Tennessee was on the verge of losing its first game of the season to Houston at the Round Rock Classic. But Tennessee starting catcher Connor Pavolony had other ideas. With the Vols trailing 4-3 with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, Pavolony entered to pinch-hit and hit a bases-clearing double to left-center to give Tennessee a 6-4 lead. Pavolony’s hit proved to be the difference in UT’s 8-4 win over the Cougars to remain undefeated on the season.
5. Landon Gray taking pain and giving pain
“While Landon was catching, he took a foul tip off of the cookies, and then in his very next at-bat hit an oppo homer to left field. Good work Landon. Kids at home, you can spend your quarantine time asking your parents what cookies mean.”
Add yet another great Vitello quote to the bulletin board as he references the home run his senior catcher hit against East Tennessee State in what would be the Vols’ final game of the season. Tennessee beat the Bucs 17-5 as Gray went 2-for-3 with his second home run of the season.
4. The immediate impact of the Gary and Donna Rose Family Fueling Station
“This was highlighted by guys like Jake Rucker hitting their first career homer, and then Max Ferguson, and then Trey Lipscomb, and then several others. At one point in the season, John Wilkerson’s favorite stat was that we had 22 home runs hit by our offense and only 20 runs given up by our defense. The fueling station helped Coach Q turn a bunch of skinny newcomers into physical athletes on the field. It also contributed to the overall development of Zach Daniels, a junior in the program who went from project for the coaching staff to a project for other coaching staffs on how they were going to get Zach Daniels out.”
3. The last minute tornado relief fundraiser put on by players and managers
“That day our guys accumulated over 5,000 dollars in contributions from those that attended, and ultimately we added that number to a greater figure that the University of Tennessee put together for Nashville tornado victims.”
Thanks to everyone who joined us at our Kids Clinic yesterday!
— Tennessee Baseball (@Vol_Baseball) March 6, 2020
2. The guest speakers for the players before the season
“Not only did these speakers make appearances at the First Pitch Banquet, but we also had some speakers over at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Many of our speakers came from the legendary Rod Delmonico era. These guys were highlighted by three World Series Champions.”
The speakers included former Vol greats Luke Hochevar, R.A. Dickey, and J.P Arencibia.
1. The athletic Sean Hunley playing second base
“Versatility was key. Guys playing multiple positions, different lineups, relievers starting, starters relieving, but all those things were highlighted by the athletic Sean Hunley playing second base for the Tennessee Vols.”