Knoxville, TN- The stage was right for Tennessee, playing at home against Notre Dame for a spot in the College World Series. Unfortunately for the Vols, the Luck of the Irish struck in the seventh inning, taking the lead and never giving it back. Notre Dame heads to Omaha and the Vols’ incredible career comes to an end in Knoxville.
It’s crazy how the game of baseball can change in the blink of an eye, but Tennessee made too many mistakes today to move forward. The Vols never delivered a knockout blow to eliminate the Irish, something they have done with opposing teams for most of the season. Starting pitcher Chase Burns held off the Irish until the seventh inning, allowing only one run, while the Vols’ offense gave them a 3-1 lead before that wild seventh inning.
Chase Burns had been dominant for the Vols, but got into trouble in the seventh inning, with Carter Putz getting a one-out double, then chaos ensued. Down 3-1, Notre Dame’s and with two out on the board, David LaManna hit a 2-run bomb to right field, tying the game. Jack Brannigan followed with a solo blast, giving the Irish a 4-3 lead, with 2 out on the board.
This was the disaster Tennessee fans feared. They had held a solid lead for a good portion of the game, but just like they have all season, Notre Dame returned it to them with a monster offensive tackle. It looked like Chase Burns sat out too long, but I’m not an expert, but he ended up biting Tennessee in the butt after those back-to-back home runs that gave the Irish a 4-3 lead. Tennessee’s Tony Vitello summed up the weekend in his opening remarks.
“Obviously congratulations to Notre Dame, I would say they have a lot to do with my fault as far as decision making. A coach’s job once the game starts is to put your guys in a position to be successful and I didn’t do that. But this is a job that requires big boy decisions and the stakes are high when you play in our league or enter the postseason.
“A lot of it was the awkwardness of things that we saw outside of Notre Dame, so I give them credit, and two, you have to run through the whole weekend,” Vitello added. “Obviously yesterday we did a lot of damage on the scoreboard, but that will stay with me. Notre Dame will be able to go to Omaha and enjoy that.”
Speaking about how much this team meant to him and what they accomplished this season, Vitello also pointed out a number of things this team was accused of, but also shared how extraordinary his group was throughout the season.
“I think what should stay with our guys, once time passes, they say that time heals all wounds, I don’t know who they are, because sometimes they take a long time. But 57 (wins) that’s a lot, a team that’s a lot of good guys and a couple of maniacs. But accused of bats, I’ve never seen a kid accused of handling a ball, accused of making the Astros and hitting the bench, accused of signaling 3 to 3, that’s supposed to be the double bird. A lot of those things were because of how dynamic they were as a group and what they accomplished, and they did some amazing things.”
Camden Sewell replaced Burns in the seventh inning, but life was about to get worse for the Vols in the eighth. After hitting a batter, the Irish were in scoring position following a sacrifice fly, then came Irish insurance. Tennessee had an easy out number two, but Trey Lipscomb made a throwing error and the Irish had two runners on with one out. It was Carter Putz who delivered again with a two-out, two-out RBI double and the Irish led 7-3, never looking back. Tony Vitello said after the game that his interference (holding pitchers too long) caused things to go off the rails a little sooner than expected.
“You just knew this would come down to ninth, I think with my interference it started before that, but you knew it would come down all the way there. So it was going to be a tough fight, whoever won.”
Tennessee was 49-0 on the season when leading for six innings, but the Irish snapped that streak Saturday, along with the hearts of everyone who wore any kind of orange, players included. There were so many different factors from today’s matchup that led you to believe that Tennessee would pack up for Omaha after today, but now they’ll just head home, leaving behind one of the greatest regular-season runs in college baseball history.
After holding back emotions during his opening statement, Tony Vitello summed up his thoughts on what this Tennessee team was like this season.
“A group of guys who take care of each other”
This Tennessee team finished the season with 57 wins.
But they also had a chance to put a stamp on the season by coming to Omaha, especially after winning the SEC regular season title along with the SEC Tournament. But fate was on the Vols’ side Sunday, when Tony Vitello spoke to the team in right field, knowing this will hurt for a long time. They couldn’t finish the job, which will leave a bad taste in the mouths of these players who struggled all season.
You walk a fine line when your team embraces the ‘Villain’ role, which the Vols have done all season. No one outside of the Tennessee fan base cared that this baseball team won, which the Vols embraced all season long with the way they played the field, not caring about anyone’s feelings in the process. But now this team has to face the music for the disappointing performance at Super Regionals. It won’t be easy, but they are grown men and one day they will remember the crazy ride they took their fans this season.
It’s easy to get caught up in the college baseball madness and Tennessee puts on a show all season long. But now that show will go on without the Vols playing a key role in it, something most people weren’t expecting this weekend.
This is not how they plotted the last game of the season, groping for a chance to play for a National Championship. There will be time to discuss everything that went right, but today was the time to discuss everything that went wrong for this team.
This one will haunt Tennessee for a while.