By Mark Nagi
The Vols baseball team arrived in Omaha as one of the teams to beat at the College World Series.
But the momentum they had brought with them to Nebraska didn’t carry over. Following losses last week to Virginia and Texas, Tennessee’s season ended abruptly.
“Sometimes baseball is a crazy game,” said Tennessee senior Pete Derkay. “(The) first day we kind of just didn’t show up like we were capable of doing (June 20 against Virginia) and we got exposed a little bit. And then today (June 22 against Texas), I mean, they were the better team. They capitalized on a little more situations and made some plays when they really needed to.”
“If the results don’t go well you have to look at yourself as a coach and wish you made different decisions because the ones you made didn’t work,” said Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello. “But you get to that point, I really didn’t have anything intelligent to say to the guys. I just, the old cliché, man, you go to a place, you’d like to leave it better than you found it. And holy cow did these kids do that.”
Tennessee finished the 2021 season with 50 wins, one of the best seasons in the history of Volunteer baseball. They won the SEC East for the first time since 2007, played for the SEC Tournament title, and advanced to the College World Series for the first time in 16 years, and only the fifth time in program history.
The future is certainly bright for Tennessee baseball.
“For them it’s just to keep staying the course with everything and keep putting in the work that got us here this go-around and to keep doing that,” said Derkay. “I think Tennessee baseball will be a force to be reckoned with next year. And you could see us back here again.”
“When they throw it on, they do everything they can to win for Tennessee and to win for each other,” said Vitello. “And I’m honored to have been around them for 50 wins and obviously one loss too many.”
Tennessee’s baseball team got back to campus on the afternoon of June 23, but even before they arrived, much of the talk has been around the future of Vitello as the Vols skipper.
Vitello had been linked to the LSU job. After the loss to Texas, Vitello said that he has not had any contact with LSU. Tennessee fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when LSU hired Arizona’s Jay Johnson.
Former Vols wide receiver and current sports talk radio personality Jayson Swain reported that Tennessee was prepared to make Vitello the highest paid coach in all of college baseball. This is the first true test for new athletics director Danny White, and how he handles the Vitello situation will go a long way towards earning him the favor or ire of Tennessee fans. It doesn’t appear that Vitello is going anywhere right now, but White will be tasked with keeping him here for the long haul.