We’re just days away from year four of the Tony Vitello era beginning on Rocky Top. The Vols will begin their 2021 campaign with a three-game series on the road at Georgia Southern on Friday. Tennessee’s home-opener is scheduled for next Tuesday evening against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Vitello’s squad enters the season with high expectations. Tennessee was picked to finish third in the SEC East on Thursday by the SEC coaches, the highest the club has been picked to finish in the preseason poll since it was picked to finish third in 2007.
Tennessee was on its way to a magical season in 2020 before it came to a screeching halt just 17 games in due to COVID-19. The Vols were 15-2 and a consensus top 25 program by every major collegiate baseball poll heading into SEC play. But because of of COVID, the SEC canceled the season after the NCAA decided not to hold the College World Series.
At the plate, Tennessee ranked first nationally in runs scored (180) and runs per game at 10.6 per contest. It ranked second in home runs (31), on-base percentage (.442), and in slugging percentage (.556). The Vols ranked third in hits (193) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.89), fifth in batting average (.320), and sixth in doubles (43).
On the mound, Frank Anderson’s pitching staff was just as dominant. Tennessee had the fifth-best ERA (2.00) in the country and ranked second in WHIP (0.94), which measures walks plus hits allowed per innings pitched. The group ranked third in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.89) and walks allowed per nine innings (2.06), and they were also 16th in hits allowed per nine innings (6.41).
Defensively, the Vols ranked in the top 20, coming in at No. 17 with a fielding percentage of .981.
Tennessee returns the majority of its production from last season. Returning Vols accounted for 74% of the team’s hits and 69% of the team’s runs batted in. On the mound, UT returns 81% of its total innings pitched and 79% of its strikeouts from last year. The Vols also boast four preseason All-Americans in Max Ferguson, Connor Pavolony, Jake Rucker and Jackson Leath.
First pitch of the season-opener against Georgia Southern on Friday is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET. Game two on Saturday against the Eagles will begin at 2 p.m. and the series-finale on Sunday will start at 1 p.m.
Here’s a look at where Tennessee baseball is ranked amongst the five major college baseball polls as year four of the Vitello era begins is set to begin:
D1Baseball.com: No. 19
USA Today Coaches Poll: No. 16
Baseball America: No. 19
Collegiate Baseball Top 50: No. 35
Perfect Game: N/R