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Issues For Tennessee A Cause For Concern But Results Aren’t At SEC Tournament

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

HOOVER, Ala. — Tennessee baseball’s trip to the SEC Tournament was as short and unsuccessful as imaginable. The Vols totaled just one baserunner and fell to Texas A&M 3-0 Tuesday afternoon at the Hoover Met.

The loss effectively ends Tennessee baseball’s chances of hosting a regional next weekend but the Vols were fighting an uphill battle in that department with Kentucky, Auburn and Alabama all ahead of Tennessee in the hosting pecking order entering the week.

Tennessee losing its first game in Hoover and heading up to Knoxville is no reason for serious anger or panic. The SEC Tournament is a great event but one that indicates little about how the NCAA Tournament will play out.

Mississippi State was run-ruled in both of its games in Hoover before winning the 2021 National Championship. Ole Miss went one-and-done in Hoover last season before winning the championship. The examples of teams losing early and going on to have NCAA Tournament success are countless.

“There’s a lot of SEC teams I think that have benefitted from going home from here, and everybody is here competing to win,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said. “You’re going to see everything in this league, so it prepares you. I think that’s one of the reasons you often see a bunch of teams from our league in Omaha. But the league in doing that or in preparing you also beats you up a little bit. So to recover and kind of get some rest time between the finish of SEC play including here in Hoover and then getting back after it, I think helps people a lot.”

The obvious advantage is rest and Tennessee will benefit from that. Tennessee has a number of arms that it doesn’t want to push the limit with. Chase Burns missed the Georgia series with arm soreness and Camden Sewell is pitching the final innings of his baseball career.

More From RTI: Tennessee’s Offense Struggles Against Texas A&M In SEC Tournament

“A lot of it is probably how guys’ mindsets are between now and then because you know their bodies are going to get rested,” Vitello said. “I think playing in this league or playing in any league, a little bit of time off your feet or maybe not as many pitches thrown can probably benefit somebody this time of year.”

So losing in the first game of the SEC Tournament? That’s nothing to seriously worry about and isn’t a serious indicator of what’s to come.

But the main issue that plagued Tennessee in Hoover is cause for concern going forward. Inconsistencies have riddled the Vols’ offense away from Lindsey Nelson Stadium all season. Even in the back half of conference play when Tennessee turned its season around, offensive inconsistencies away from home persisted.

The Vols scored 12 runs in game one of their weekend series at Georgia. They combined for just five runs the next two days as they dropped the weekend series. Tennessee scored 18 total runs in its weekend series at South Carolina but five and 12 run showings bookmarked a one run stinker— even if it was just a seven inning game.

“You just started to see that with some guys, even prior to the game, swinging in the cage doesn’t go the way they want,” Vitello said on Tuesday. “And you’ve got a lot of emotions involved, and I think you’ve got to be careful about letting those emotions take control of you.

“Baseball is — it’s easy to coach, it’s not easy to play, how you hold a baseball, firm but loose. It’s kind of the same thing. It’s a delicate balance of being in that box and competing but also being relaxed.”

That approach and balance has improved for Tennessee over the course of the season but it also hasn’t been perfect or completely figured out either.

Tennessee baseball’s quick exit from the SEC Tournament doesn’t mean they’re a bad team or will suffer the same fate in the NCAA Tournament. But the issue that caused the quick exit is one of a small handful that could cause a disappointing end to the season early in the NCAA Tournament.

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