This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
Following the 2020 WNBA Draft the week prior, an intimate remote NFL Draft drew a record number of viewers as sports fans clamored for any news regarding their favorite teams and athletes. Luckily, Tennessee Vol fans could celebrate. The Seattle Seahawks selected edge rusher Darrell Taylor in the second round before San Francisco selected wide receiver Jauan Jennings in the seventh round.
Good news continued for potential undrafted free agents. Wide receiver Marquez Callaway is expected to sign with the New Orleans Saints, safety Nigel Warrior with the Baltimore Ravens, and tight end Dominic Wood-Anderson with Seattle. Former Vol turned Georgia Bulldog Eli Wolf also received an offer from the Baltimore Ravens.
Now, fans find themselves in another sports slump, turning to news like Yves Pons’ intention to enter the 2020 NBA Draft and SEC Network or ESPN game replays. Before catching up on “The Last Dance” documentary series about the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, take a look back at Vol moments in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
May 1, 1951
An in-state rivalry game gave one team its 12th win of the season while the other barely missed its opportunity to end a season-long losing streak. In 10 innings, the Tennessee Vols edged past an abysmal Vanderbilt squad, 7-6. The Southeastern Conference leaders narrowly escaped embarrassment, roaring back from a decisive deficit to keep working toward the College World Series.
Alabama, second in the standings, lost 2-0 to Auburn the same afternoon. Had Tennessee lost to the Commodores, the Tide would have still had a chance at the conference title.
“Tennessee, gunning for its first baseball crown since the Southeastern was established, reacted like real champions when defeat stared them in the face in the last inning,” Tennesseean reporter F.M. Williams wrote. “They pushed across three runs in the ninth to tie the score at 6-6 and then won it in the tenth with a single, fluke double and outfield fly.”
Vanderbilt rallied behind clutch pitching from Don Sheffield. He only gave up four hits to the Vols heading into the ninth. The Commodores’ bats got hot early as John Rich blasted a home run in the first. Then, Hugh Wise powered a three-run homer over the fence after two walks. By the third inning, the score stood at 6-1.
“It was, without exception, the best game of the year for the Commodores,” Williams said. “They deserved to win it.”
But the championship mentality of the Tennessee squad yet again propelled them to victory. The Vols clinched the SEC title with wins against Kentucky to close out the regular season before heading all the way to the 1951 College World Series Championship where they lost the national title to Oklahoma.
April 28, 1990
It was tennis tournament time in Tennessee. The hosts stood poised to take the crown. The Vols, 30-0, won all six singles matches to take the semifinal match against Auburn without needing to send their doubles teams onto the home courts in Knoxville. The 6-0 thumping sent Tennessee to the final match against No. 2 seed Georgia, a perennial tennis powerhouse.
With a perfect record, the Vols expected to see themselves atop the Intercollegiate Tennis Coaches Association poll thanks to their grit and a bit of luck.
“Auburn flip-flopped their No. 1 and No. 2 singles players and No. 5 and No. 6 singles players,” Tennessee coach Mike DePalmer said. “I think their changes worked into an advantageous situation for us. It gave us better match-ups in those matches.”
Tennessee advanced to the finals to face Georgia, who the Vols defeated 5-3 earlier in the regular season that month. Georgia had won three consecutive SEC titles from 1987-1989 (following Tennessee’s win in 1986). The Vols reclaimed the title on April 29th, defeating the Dawgs 5-1 that Sunday, which Kingsport Times-News sports editor Bill Lane described as a “cool Sabbath.”
“For the moment at least, burly-and-bearded coach Mike DePalmer and his team have changed the university’s spelling from Tennessee to ‘Tennis-ee,’” Lane said. “Truly, the last did become first. Tennessee had finished 10th in the 1989 tournament.”
Tennessee took a perfect record to the NCAA Tournament where they finished in the finals, second in the country.
DePalmer, the winningest coach in program history, died earlier this year on Jan. 9.
April 30, 2003
While many Vol fans enjoy watching the college teams play in Knoxville, East Tennessee baseball fans often also enjoy watching the Tennessee Smokies, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Not too far from Knoxville, the Smokies remain the home team for Kodak residents. On April 30, 2003, the Vols and the Smokies met for an exhibition game dubbed the Tennessee Classic. The minor league team took the win at Smokies Stadium, 8-6.
Then an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Smokies invited Tennessee back for a rematch after beating the Vols 5-4 in the first-ever meeting a year prior. Paul Chiaffredo, who only spent one season with the Smokies, hit a walk off home run against Vol reliever Chris Heath, who made his first appearance on the mound in the game.
Athletic Director Doug Dickey arranged the match-up with Smokies General Manager Brian Cox. As in the season prior, the teams used wooden bats and added a designated hitter to the lineup.
“Our student athletes had a great time last year,” Dickey said in an earlier release. “[They] are looking forward to this year’s game.”
With 3,712 fans in the stands, the Vols jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the fourth on a triple by Jordan Czarniecki and a two-run double by Javi Herrera. The Vols had tied the game in the third after giving up two unearned runs in the first. They failed to hang on, however, as Smokies Jason Galbraith and Brian Flynn tossed a combined 4 1/3 innings of shutout relief. Juan Figueroa entered in the ninth for the save.
The two teams would square off again on April 4, 2006. Then the Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Smokies stunned UT with a shutout 8-0 game. The Vols did not play another game at Smokies Stadium until a match-up with East Tennessee State University in 2017. The Vols won 8-1.
Tennessee defeated ETSU again this year on March 10th, 17-5, in the last game before the season ended. The 2020 Vols would have just finished up an SEC East rivalry series with Georgia had the season continued without the COVID-19 pandemic. Both teams seemed poised to make a run for the SEC title in a formidable conference.