In the Columbia Regional, the Hoos had to overcome the high-powered Old Dominion Monarchs and their lineup which led the nation (at the time) in home runs. Then they earned a three game series with the team immediately behind the Monarchs in Dallas Baptist and their 101 homers (good for third in the country). Now it’s only fitting that Virginia’s opening opponent at the College World Series, the Tennessee Volunteers, come in just behind the Patriots at 98 home runs on the year. The Cavaliers pitchers were able to stymy their previous opponents bats just enough to get the wins, but will they be able to do the same against the Volunteers.
As a team the Vols hit .280 good for fifth in the SEC. Their 98 home runs were second in the conference behind the nation’s leader Arkansas. While they definitely have pop, they are also prone to the strikeout coming in fourth in the SEC with 557 Ks. That’s something Virginia will have to take advantage of if they wish to stay at the top of the bracket in Omaha.
Tennesse is anchored by their left side, led by third baseman Jake Rucker and shortstop Liam Spence. Rucker was second on the team in hitting with a .331 batting average and led the squad in hits and doubles. On the year, he was named to the All-SEC First Team and was a Third Team All-American by Baseball America. Next to him in the infield is Spence who’s an on-base machine. The senior from Australia reached base at a .477 clip which led the conference. He led the team in runs and walks and it should be a focal point of Virginia’s game plan to keep him off the base paths.
The right side of the Volunteer infield is where you’ll find the power. At first, Luc Lipcius only hit .248, but tied for the team lead in home runs with 15 and was third on the team in runs scored with 47. Joining Spence up the middle is Max Ferguson. The junior batted .256 and knocked 12 home runs. He was second behind Spence in walks with 46, but did lead the team in strikeouts with 70.
Around the outfield, the Volunteers have a trio who all hit double-digit home runs. Jordan Beck mans the left side and tied Lipcius with 15 dingers on the year. Beck led the team in RBI and was second in the SEC in that category. Coming in just one home run behind is Evan Russell. The senior rightfielder knocked 14 long balls and was third on the team in slugging percentage at .520. Up the middle, Drew Gilbert hit .275 while hitting ten home runs. He also came in second on the team in RBI and led the team in hit by pitch. Gilbert, a sophomore also pitches for Volunteers having appeared in seven games and having a 0.00 ERA to show for it.
Behind the plate is Connor Pavolony. Pavolony only played in 47 games this season, but he made them count. In just 148 at bats, he slugged seven home runs. A number that is more than all but four Cavaliers.
Virginia and Tennessee face off Sunday at 2 PM EDT. The game will be on ESPN2 as both teams look to get their CWS started with a win.