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This Week in UT Sports History: March 29 – April 4

(Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)

With both basketball seasons over for Tennessee, many fans have turned attention to the #9 Vol Baseball team. Tony Vitello’s sluggers beat #14 LSU in the series opener last Friday, 3-1, at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville. Rain forced suspension of Saturday’s game, which resumed Sunday with an extra-inning showdown. Tied at eight all in the 11th inning, Drew Gilbert hit a walk-off home run to give Tennessee the 9-8 win. The Vols eventually swept the series, winning the final game, 3-2.

Inclement weather also forced cancellation of the Lady Vol Challenge against Troy at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium. However, the Lady Vols expect to return to the softball diamond this afternoon against Furman. Tennessee holds a record of 23-5 (2-4 SEC).

As spring seasons continue, Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at other baseball moments and more, this week in UT sports history:

April 1-3, 1994

Tennessee’s baseball team faced Auburn for the first time in program history this week in 1994. Though the Vols ultimately lost the three-game series in Knoxville, they also recorded the first baseball win against the Tigers. After losing 6-3 and 3-1 in Games 1 and 2, Tennessee got the bats going for an 8-4 win on April 3, 1994.

The Vols got on the board quickly with three runs in the first inning after a 51-minute rain delay. Around 600 fans waited out the weather to watch the matchup.

Future professional stars R.A. Dickey and Todd Helton led the way for the Vol victory. Dickey recorded the win. However, Helton earned a clutch save after taking the mound for the seventh inning. He struck out four batters on the day after Dickey struck out two through six innings.

The Vols have only won two of the last 10 games against Auburn. The Tigers hold the all-time record of 45-19. The two programs will not meet this season.

The 2021 Tennessee team (20-4) next faces Western Carolina tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. in Knoxville before heading to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Friday for a three-game series against the Crimson Tide.

March 31 and April 2, 1989

The Lady Vols advanced to the Final Four under head coach Pat Summitt. Seeking their second national title, the team prepared to face Maryland in Tacoma, Washington, six days after a 94-80 win against Long Beach State in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Travel did not tire the Tennessee offense, and the Lady Vols advanced to the title game with a 77-65 win.

The Lady Vols only led by two at the half, 33-31. Maryland quickly got on the board with a three-point play and a shot from beyond the arc to take a 42-41 lead. But Tennessee’s Sheila Frost and Bridgette Gordon fought back on offense. The two finished with 25 and 24 points, respectively, to ultimately take the win.

No. 1 Tennessee improved to 34-2 overall as the No. 5 Terrapins finished their season at 29-3. The last challenge of the season would come against Auburn, seeking its first national championship title in women’s basketball. The Lady Tigers would face a tough test in the all-SEC matchup.

“I think it will be a proud moment for the Southeastern Conference to have two teams in the championship,” Auburn head coach Joe Ciampi said.

Auburn had lost its only game of the season against Tennessee in the SEC Championship finals. The Lady Tigers won the regular-season matchup between the two schools, 67-59. So, the championship was anybody’s game to win.

Anybody’s name was Bridgette Gordon.

Gordon again gave a stellar offensive performance, picking up an NCAA record 27 points to propel the Lady Vols to their second national title, 76-60. She earned the NCAA women’s most valuable player trophy for her efforts.

The Tennessee star already had an Olympic gold medal under head coach Kay Yow and a national championship title with Summitt (1987), but she stood out as she worked with the latter in 1989.

Summitt knew Gordon wanted to be an Olympian with national accolades and pushed her to earn those recognitions.

“I guess I expect so much from Bridgette that I stayed on her to the bitter end,” Summitt said. “So many times, all spectators watch is the player with the ball. They should watch Bridgette without the ball. That’s when she does some of her finest work.”

Despite strong words from the coach, Gordon said Summitt had mellowed since she first came to Tennessee. She seemed to enjoy coaching more, learning what’s important and what isn’t when working with players. Tennessean reporter Cindy Smith noted a “decided calmer, more relaxed” Tennessee coach led her team to the win.

Summitt promised she would dance on the table at the post-game dinner if her players earned a second title. In the end, she had just one reservation:

“Anybody know a good dance teacher?”

The Lady Vols finished the 2020-21 season 17-8 overall (9-4 SEC) after a loss to Michigan last Tuesday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

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