A new season begins for Tennessee baseball Friday night as they open up NCAA Tournament play in the Clemson Regional against three-seed Charlotte.
The stakes are high in the four-team double elimination tournament making every decision, and particularly pitching decisions, magnified. Meeting with the local media Tuesday morning Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said he and his coaching staff hadn’t decided who would get the ball for the Vols against Charlotte.
“That would just be based off the fact that we haven’t completed today’s practice yet, which involves some bullpens and things like that. I don’t think we plan to reinvent the wheel or anything,” Vitello said. “We started to really kind of have a feel for what roles our guys are going to have.”
Andrew Lindsey has been Tennessee’s game one starter since the Arkansas series in early April and has thrived in that role. The transfer pitcher posted a 2-1 record, 2.96 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 45.2 innings pitched in SEC play.
The interesting storyline with Lindsey facing Charlotte is that the right-handed pitcher spent the 2021 season at Charlotte before taking the 2022 season off and transferring to Tennessee.
“There has been some time,” Vitello said of Lindsey potentially facing his old team. “Not just between tenures, but also the start of this year and the end of this year. That just kind of shows you how much one team or one individual can change. So there is maybe a little bit, something there. … So storylines can be fun. I don’t know that there are that many in our regional. But they kind of go to the wayside for coaches and players once the games start.”
Chase Dollander has been one of Tennessee’s weekend starters the entirety of the season. The preseason All-American was the Vols’ Friday night starter to open the season before moving to Saturday in the Arkansas series.
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Dollander has gotten better-and-better the back half of the season in his new role and turned in a dominant 5.1 inning outing in his final start of the regular season at South Carolina. If Tennessee doesn’t give Lindsey the ball to open the weekend, Dollander would be the most obvious alternative.
Still, Tennessee could easily use Dollander in a Saturday elimination game or the critical winner’s bracket championship.
“Save from the outing where he was sick (Mississippi State), I’ve kind of seen this (pointing up) out of him, which is the way you want your team and players to go,” Vitello said of Dollander.
Tennessee’s greatest strength entering the NCAA Tournament is its pitching depth. The Vols have a number of strong arms including Lindsey, Dollander, Chase Burns, Camden Sewell, Seth Halvorsen, AJ Russell, Hollis Fanning, Kirby Connell and Zander Sechrist.
So how does Tony Vitello view planning his deep pitching rotation entering a double elimination tournament? The Vols’ sixth-year head coach likes to approach things game-by-game and not plan three-to-four games ahead.
“You come up with a new plan that is specific just to that next game,” Vitello said. “I think getting too far ahead can cause problems to the game that is right in front of you. Again, that is kind of our goal – to win the game that is right in front of you. You want some guys that are down there who constantly have in the back of their minds – if you need me to handle this I can.”
Tennessee baseball begins its NCAA Tournament run at 6 p.m. ET Friday night at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson. ESPNU is broadcasting the matchup between the Vols and Charlotte.