Tennessee’s baseball team is finishing up its fall season this week as the Vols compete in their annual intrasquad Fall World Series. Head coach Tony Vitello met with the media Tuesday ahead of the second day of scrimmaging.
Here is everything you need to know about the Vols’ fall season.
How did Tennessee do on the field?
The NCAA now allows college baseball programs to have two different fall exhibition games. Tennessee took advantage of the rule change scrimmaging Clemson and Xavier.
The Vols first hosted Clemson, a NCAA tournament team a year ago, to Lindsey Nelson Stadium earlier this fall and had an impressive showing. The teams competed in a pair of eight inning games with Tennessee winning 7-3 and 3-0 respectively.
The Vols traveled to Nashville for their second fall exhibition date playing against Xavier at Lipscomb University. The score from the exhibition wasn’t announced but reports are that the Vols didn’t play as strong against the Musketeers as they did against the Tigers.
“I’ve liked the energy,” Vitello said. “It’s been there all four sets. … The fact that they’ve maintained interest and energy and have been together as a unit has been the most impressive thing.”
“The second-best thing has been the pitching, but at the same time the pitching wasn’t nearly as good at Lipscomb (against Xavier) as it was on our home field. … When that pitching is right it’s pretty exciting.”
Second year development
Tennessee’s 2018 signing class was one of the nation’s best. That showed up on the field last season where multiple freshman played significant innings as the Vols returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005.
That recruiting class is only starting to pay dividends for Vitello and company as those guys, and many that didn’t play significant time last year look to make a jump.
One of those sophomores is RHP Chase Wallace who, after seeing minimal innings on the mound as a freshman, has impressed this fall.
“He’s been outstanding,” Vitello said. “He’s been pitch-for-pitch as good as anybody. I remember one inning he didn’t really have that presence that he’s had all semester long. … The rest he’s been mister consistent with his approach, his attitude, his delivery. Everything you can list off.”
Another player Vitello harped on is third baseman Trae Lipscomb. After seeing limited time as a freshman behind Andre Lipcius, Lipscomb has bad a big fall including a four-for-four performance against Clemson.
“Big is the word,” Vitello said. “He’s a man now. He wasn’t like that when he first came to a camp here in Knoxville. He fills out his uniform well. He has a lot of strength at the plate, so he’s got room for error when he’s swinging that bat.
“He can play anywhere on the field, literally. We even joked around with him one day and had him catching, but third base is such a crucial position when you do have good pitching. He kinda seems to solidify that a little bit. … He’s certainly a front runner to be an everyday guy.”
Sophomores Max Ferguson, Connor Pavolony, Jake Rucker and Camden Sewell also saw significant playing time last season and could be due for a big jump during their second year on Rocky Top.
Competition all over the diamond
As Vitello’s rebuild in Knoxville continues, so does the depth of the Tennessee baseball team.
It has created competition at every position on the field as Vitello said no one has locked up a starting spot.
While guys like Al Soularie, Luc Lipcius and Garrett Crochet are nearly locked to be starters, the improved depth gives Vitello plenty of options and the ability to tinker with his lineup and play guys at different spots.
There isn’t a better example of that than Ferguson who started games at both first base and second base last year before suffering a broken wrist in SEC play.
“I’d say if anything Max (Ferguson) is our best second baseman,” Vitello said. “But Jake Rucker played so much second base last year there may end up being a better combination that requires Fergy (Ferguson) to play somewhere else, but he’s played as hard as anyone and as smart as anyone on our team.”
Despite losing starters Jay Charleston and Justin Ammons from a year ago, Vitello appeared excited by his outfield stating that they feel like they have seven guys that can play out there including freshmen Jordan Beck and Drew Gilbert.
Connor Pavolony and Landon Gray split time starting at catcher last season and both are back for their second season in Knoxville. While neither starred at the plate last season they were both solid behind it.
“I think Gray is a little more comfortable,” Vitello said. “Even though you’re (Gray) a junior, when you’re a junior college transfer it’s different when it’s your first year in a program. … There’s a greater sense of a wide chest and a chin up and a senior presence out of him.”
“Pav (Connor Pavolony) has made that jump,” Vitello said. “From freshman to sophomore year is usually when you see these guys mature the most physically and mentally and he’s been outstanding behind the plate but even more impressive offensively.”