Virginia’s College World Series journey begins Sunday afternoon as the Hoos face a dangerous Tennessee squad. In order to get a better feel for the opponent, we reached out to our friends at Rocky Top Talk for the complete Vols lowdown. Huge thanks to Nick Carner for the in depth answers.
You can check out our answers to their questions here.
Let’s get to it!
Streaking the Lawn: Tennessee had an emphatic performance in the Super Regional, absolutely dominating LSU. Outside of “everything,” what went right for the Vols?
RTT: I think, “everything,” covers it pretty well. In one or both games of the two-game sweep, UT had impressive performances from starting pitching, relief pitching, great plays in the field and and got an appearance from the long ball. Does that cover everything? (We’re kinda new to baseball around here 8^)
The Vols got a dang-near career best from their lead starting pitcher in Chad Dallas in Game 1 — five IP, one earned run and 12 Ks; Sean Hunley and Camden Sewell, Tennessee’s bullpen bullies, combined for four IP, one hit, four Ks and zero runs; Tennessee got a fantastic defensive play from SS Liam Spence in Game 1 that turned the tide of the game and an incredible diving catch from 2nd baseman Max Ferguson in the third inning that kept LSU from increasing its early-game 1-0 lead. Oh, yeah, and the Vols hit six HRs and plated 15 in Game 2. Tennessee also got some incredible support from the fans. They packed Lindsey Nelson Stadium, sat through an hour-ish weather delay in Game 1 and had a block party outside the venue crowded with folks who wanted to attend but couldn’t get a ticket.
STL: Who do you expect to see on the mound for game one, and what can you tell Virginia fans about them and their approach?
RTT: Dallas will get the start. He’s not all that big or, necessarily, a physically imposing guy — listed at 5-11, 206 — and he’s not going to blow batters away with a triple-digit fastball.
But, he’s a fiery competitor (don’t take the emotion he shows on the mound personally, UVA fans,) and has developed a mid-80s cutter that he can locate on the corners or throw out of the zone and get hitters to chase. It’s probably his best pitch, playing off his low-to-mid 90s fastball and a curve that has some serious movement when Dallas is in his groove.
This is cheesy (Dallas’s nickname is cheese, too, for the record) but he’s a gamer. He won eight of his 11 SEC starts and is coming off that career-high 12 K, one-run-allowed Super Regional game against an LSU offense that finished in the NCAA’s top 25 for runs scored this year.
STL: Which hitters should Virginia fans be aware of?
RTT: All of them. That might sound conceited, but it’s not meant to be. Tennessee just has a dangerous lineup, top-to-bottom. Liam Spence leads off and seemingly spends more time on first than most first basemen (.477 OBP). Jake Rucker bats third and mixes plus power with his ability to also hit for average. Drew Gilbert is typically slotted in the clean-up spot, and he set fire to the internet with his walk-off grand slam against Wright State in Tennessee’s first Regional game. Tennessee fans love his post-HR bat flips while people who don’t like fun enjoy them considerably less.
The top of the lineup is threatening, but most teams’ first four or five hitters are really good. It’s the south side of the Vols’ order that their offense apart from most other squads. In my likely seriously-biased opinion, Tennessee boasts one of the best group of six-through-nine hitters in the country.
Six-and-seven hitters Luc Lipcius and Jordan Beck are tied for the team-lead in HRs with 15 each, while Beck ranks top-15-ish in the country with 63 RBIs. Catcher Connor Pavolony hits in the 9-spot with a .260-ish average and was a preseason D1 Baseball Second Team All-American. The Vols lineup is like a totally defective straw – its got no holes.
STL: TD Ameritrade plays bigger than most home parks...do you think that’ll have a huge impact on Tennessee’s hot home run hitting?
RTT: Here are the dimensions for TD Ameritrade Park and the dimensions for Tennessee’s homefield, Lindsey Nelson Stadium per the internet. TDAP is on top, and LNS is on bottom.
335 LF, 375 LCF, 408 CF, 375 RCF, 335 RF
320 LF, 360 LCF, 390 CF, 350 RCF, 320 RF
The fences are about 15 feet closer at LNS than at TDAP except in RCF where LNS is 25 feet closer than TDAP, and those discrepancies, well, they aren’t insignificant.
So, to answer your question, I think the deeper fences will have an impact, but Tennessee hits the ball hard, and hard-hit balls don’t just sail outta the park.
Those balls end up in the gaps. Tennessee has the NCAA’s third-most doubles with 133 in 66 games. And sometimes, those balls just end up in gloves. Tennessee also ranks in the NCAA’s top-ish 40 for sacrifice flies.
The UT hitters aren’t going to necessarily wow you with a whole lot of speed on the base paths, but eight of the Vols’ nine batters have at least five steals, and only two of those eight players have been caught stealing more than once. Tennessee is pretty selective about running but typically makes the opponent pay when it does run.
There’s a lot of moving parts — the stuff above plus way more — when it comes to plating runs without hitting the ball out of the park, and Tennessee does enough of those things adequately, I think, to overcome the ball park in Omaha being bigger than what the Vol hitters are used to.
STL: Virginia has had late-inning success with manufacturing runs and hitting dingers...how do you feel about UT’s relievers?
RTT: Overall, I’m relatively confident in Tennessee’s relievers. But, I’ll say if I had to pick an area of concern for the rest of the CWS, I’d probably pick the bullpen. I’m not entirely objective on this subject, though, because relief pitchers ALWAYS WORRY ME. It’s just stressful gig, and I’m kind of a worrier.
Earlier I talked about Sean Hunley and Camden Sewell. Of late, they’ve been Tennessee’s go-to guys later in games when the atmosphere is tense and every pitch has game-deciding consequences. Both guys have sub-3 ERAs and hold opposing batters to near the Mendoza Line, and both guys have been outstanding in their last couple outings. Hunley’s pitched seven-straight scoreless innings through his last two appearances while Sewell hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 21st.
I would imagine that UVA is most likely to see one of those two guys with this matchup being Game 1 of the double-elimination final leg of the CWS. However, both Hunley and Sewell are righties, so left-handers Redmond Walsh and Kirby Connell (Kirby has a glorious mullet/ mustache btw y’all gotta check it out) could also make appearances depending on how the matchups shake out.
Virginia and Tennessee square off at 2pm ET on ESPN2.