Long-awaited pandemonium broke out when Redmond Walsh got LSU’s Jake Wyeth to line out to third base to end Game 2 of the Knoxville Super Regional. Walsh was dogpiled on the mound by his teammates and coaches. The crowd chanted “O-ma-ha, O-ma-ha, O-ma-ha!” The Vols even ran out and leapt onto the left field wall in celebration with the fans in the porches.
On the strength of six home runs, the Vols cruised to a 15-6 rout of LSU Sunday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium to clinch their first trip to Omaha and the College World Series since 2005.
“I think it's hard to put into words, going to Omaha,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “You know, we'll be dancing in the streets like crazy tonight, I hope.”
The Vols did not homer in last night’s rainy win, but the day’ hot temperature provided a much better atmosphere for the long ball, and the Vols took full advantage. Playing as the away team, Jake Rucker set the tone for the afternoon with a two-run homer off LSU’s ace Landon Marceaux in the first inning.
Two innings later, Rucker got to Marceaux again with an opposite field shot to right. Marceaux, who had been pushed back from Saturday to Sunday for an extra day of rest, threw only three innings and 55 pitches, allowing three runs.
The Vols showed no mercy on LSU’s bullpen once Marceaux exited. It took four Tiger pitchers to complete the next two frames, as the Vols put up eight runs in that span to take a commanding lead. Connor Pavolony hit a two-run homer in the fourth, and then the Vols batted around in the fifth, hitting two more home runs and scoring six times.
“I don't think you want to ever predict you're putting up a touchdown or anything like that,” Vitello said. “But you saw a looseness there that made you more comfortable.”
The Vols’ 15 runs gave freshman starter Blade Tidwell plenty of room to work with, and for much of the outing, he didn’t need it. After allowing a leadoff homer to Dylan Crews in the first inning, Tidwell retired the next eight Tigers until Crews took him deep for a second time in the third.
Tidwell got through the next two innings unscathed but allowed a pair of two-run homers in the sixth and seventh innings that makes his final line look much worse than it really was. In the end, Tidwell threw 93 pitches (64 strikes) in seven innings and gave up six runs on seven hits, though all the damage came via the long ball.
The four runs LSU scored in the later innings did not hurt Tennessee for long. Evan Russell hit the Vols’ sixth homer of the day, an eighth-inning opposite field homer that set a new school record for home runs in a postseason game. The Vols then put up two more in the ninth, giving Walsh plenty of room to close out the game and send Tennessee to its fifth College World Series in program history.
“There was some pretty good vibes in the dugout,” Russell said. “It was pretty expected later in the game when we were up that we were going to win that game but you can’t celebrate too early especially on a team like that. They have some mojo on that team. You have to continue to grind out the game and if you don’t let up, you’ll have good success and that’s what happened with us.”
A trip to Omaha marks the current height of the Vols’ 180 degree turnaround in Vitello’s four years at the helm of the program. He lead them to their first regional appearance in 14 years in 2019, and was likely headed there again before the pandemic cut the 2020 season short.
Vitello’s Vols climbed over the hump by hosting and winning both a regional and super regional this year, and they are now headed to the College World Series. But for the Vols, they hope a bigger peak is still to come.
“I don't think anyone's ready for this to end,” Russell said. “And I know for a fact, no one wants it to end with us holding our heads down. So, I think there's a lot of guys that are ready to get back to work tomorrow and see what Omaha is about.”