The Vols are navigating through uncharted waters – or at least waters they have not been traversed in over a month.
The No. 1 ranked Tennessee baseball team had its 23-game win streak snapped Tuesday night at the hands of Tennessee Tech at Smokies Stadium – the home of the Chicago Cubs’ Class AA affiliate. The Vols jumped ahead early in their first game using wood bats since 2006, but they went hitless over the final four innings and a late two-run home run off Ben Joyce was the difference.
The Vols (31-2, 12-0 SEC), who were a game shy of tying the all-time SEC win-streak record, were not glad to have lost, but ahead of a pivotal weekend series with No. 24 Alabama (22-12, 7-5 SEC) at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, they are eager to learn from their mistakes both on and off the field.
“We haven't had our thumb on the guys all year long, where we’re trying to make them miserable, that you’ve got to get this right or this right,” Tennessee head baseball coach Tony Vitello said. “The whole key is to play your best baseball in May or June. In order to do that, you’re going to have to correct mistakes or make adjustments throughout the year. And it’s our job as coaches to point those things out.”
For the Vols, their first corrections will be their approach. The Vols looked past Tuesday’s game with Tennessee Tech to the weekend, and it resulted in their second loss of the season.
“Just bounce back from it,” second baseman Jorel Ortega said Tuesday. “Take the negatives and turn them into a positive. Have a good day (Wednesday), work on the things we didn't do right today and just get better before the weekend.”
The Vols were eager to get back on the practice field and get the sour taste of their first loss since March 4 out of their mouths. With a series against an Alabama team that has won nine of its last 10 games, including seven consecutive, and ranks fifth in the conference in team ERA (3.84), the Vols knew they could not let Tuesday’s outcome carry over into their Alabama preparation. According to Vitello, they did exactly that.
“I don’t think anyone was down or anything like that,” Vitello said. “But you maybe got a little more determination, a little more burning desire to get back out on the field.”
The Vols are talented enough where correcting the on-the-field mistakes should not be an issue. Handling an environment like Tuesday’s, however, is a different story. The Vols played in front of a crowd of 8,183 people – nearly double the full capacity of Lindsey Nelson Stadium – which contributed to them being more amped up than usual.
And the electric, yet straining environment came after rain altered Tennessee's pregame routine. The Vols did not get out on the field for their normal batting practice – something Vitello felt threw his team off. But it was a learning experience for Tennessee. With aspirations as lofty as theirs, the Vols will have to overcome adversity at some point.
Vitello believes Tuesday got his team on the right track.
“Now that the game is over, there are gonna be times where pregame gets thrown off or schedule changes occur or we don't have control over what we have access to, what we don't have access to, when we go to certain sites,” Vitello said. “And then, same thing, you know, looking up and seeing 8,000 people or a big crowd or it being a different setting than we're really used to it with Lindsey Nelson Stadium, or even, you know, just kind of more of a pro-park vibe, it's gonna prepare you for Hoover (the SEC Tournament).”