Tennessee baseball vs. Belmont

Alerick Soularie, #1, during game against Belmont on Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

When Alerick Soularie, better known as Al around the clubhouse, signed with Tennessee last year, head coach Tony Vitello knew he was getting a competitor.

He might not have known just how good of a baseball player he was getting.

Soularie wasn’t in the lineup for Tennessee on opening day and spent most of the first two weeks of the season in and out of the lineup, mostly serving as a designated hitter. It didn’t take Soularie long to find his footing and become one of the Vols’ best players, though.

He was a two-sport star in high school, playing football and baseball at Atascocita High School in Houston, Texas. Despite being an All-State player in high school, the 5-foot-11 right hander found himself in junior college after he graduated.

Soularie attended San Jacinto Community College for a season, where he earned NCJAA Third-Team All-American honors after a season where he hit .400 with 10 home runs.

His strong season at the junior college level drew the attention of many coaches, but Vitello was able to lean on his strong recruiting ties to the state of Texas to secure Soularie’s signature.

The difference from playing at a junior college to playing in the SEC is large, but it’s also just going out and playing the game the way you have your whole life.

“Sometimes guys trick themselves into thinking that it’s something different and special,” Vitello said. “And yeah, it is special and different in the fact that there is more TV, more media, more fans, but it’s the same ole’ competition.”

For Soularie, it has been a change in preparation that has been his biggest adjustment.

“I have to prepare myself a different way from juco,” Soularie said. “I feel like I’ve learned more about the game since I’ve been here, so I just take that from practice and put it on the field.”

On the field, Soularie is a do it all player. The sophomore leads Tennessee in batting average and home runs, and he’s second on the team in RBIs. He hasn’t started seven of the Vols’ first 30 games.

His .383 batting average ranks him 77th in the nation. His seven homers tie him for the 47th most in in the nation. His slugging percentage of .691 is by far the best on the team and good enough to rank 38th in the country.

“Just being himself, and relying on that swing that’s got him a lot of success in the past is good to see,” Vitello said. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable.”

Soularie’s production hasn’t dropped in SEC play. His calm and collected approach hasn’t changed against some of the nation’s best pitchers and it shows, as he’s hit .407 with six RBIs in the Vols’ nine conference games.

He can do it all at the plate, but that’s not the only place his production shows. Soularie can play all over the field, though he’s mostly settled at left field, where the sophomore routinely makes impressive plays.

Just this past weekend at Vanderbilt, Soularie made a pair of big time plays, including a tough leaping catch at the wall in Saturday’s 10-4 loss and a huge sliding catch that helped save a run in the Vols’ 7-6 win over the Commodores on Sunday.

On the base path, Soularie’s speed shows, as he’s third on the team in stolen bases, successfully taking four bases in his five attempts on the season.

Tennessee’s offense was in need of good bats for 2019. Soularie has helped provide just that. With seven SEC series left in the season, the Vols are hoping that his production in the cleanup spot continues.

If it does, Tennessee will make the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2016, and might just make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005.

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