Tennessee baseball claimed the outright SEC regular season championship Friday after defeating Georgia and Vanderbilt taking the series opener over Arkansas
The regular season conference title is Tennessee’s (45-6, 22-4 SEC) first since 1995 and fourth in program history.
“It just shows that there are a lot of guys that are determined to do some really good things,” Tennessee catcher Evan Russell said. “The SEC, that is pretty awesome. It is nothing to ignore. It is a big accomplishment and something we wanted to do. We need to come out tomorrow and keep playing baseball. If you get satisfied with something that we have accomplished, then more than likely we would turn off a switch of how we play our game and it would be hard to turn back on. We definitely don’t need to change anything. We just need to keep playing our game and see what happens.”
Tennessee clinched the SEC championship with four conference games still remaining and a chance to finish half a game behind Vanderbilt’s SEC best ever 26-3 conference record in 2013.
Ironically, Tennessee’s rival 180-miles west on Interstate-40 proved beneficial in the Vols’ clinching their first regular-season conference title in 27 years.
“I came in when we were not this good to say the least,” Tennessee first baseman Luc Lipcius said. “Just to see the growth year over year is pretty exciting. Last year, we had 20 SEC wins and we felt like we were at the top. We were at the top of the east. How could it get any better? It did. You can thank the coaches for that, keeping pushing us to get better and being relentless in what we do. We are trying to win that last game of the season so it is just another step along the way.”
A week after its win over Georgia clinched the SEC East for Tennessee, Vanderbilt took the series opener over Arkansas in 10 innings— clinching the conference title for the Vols.
While Vanderbilt’s help expedited the process, Tennessee was on a collision course with the SEC Championship for some time, and the Vols put themselves in prime position with Friday night’s, 9-2, win over Georgia.
Tennessee dominated Georgia in Friday night’s game, overcoming an early one-run deficit to earn a blowout victory. The Vols offense exploded in the win thanks to big nights from Evan Russell and Jorel Ortega.
While Tennessee winning its first conference championship in 27 years is a major achievement and milestone for Tony Vitello’s program, the Vols are worried about their larger postseason goals right now.
“Obviously, it would be cool,” Tennessee outfielder Drew Gilbert said. “No one talks about it. It’s not something that’s mentioned in the locker room or in meeting. It’s not something we’re focused on. We just take it game-to-game.”
“I think the vibe in the locker room is basically we can celebrate after the season is completely over,” Russell said. “No matter what happens, no matter what we accomplish, good or bad, I think we can save the celebrations for when it is all over. If you celebrate too early, what could happen is usually not good. I think we are going to the approach of playing our game and see how the dice roll.”
Tennessee returns to the field Saturday when they host Georgia for the series finale at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. First pitch is at 1 p.m. ET and the SEC Network+ will stream the game.