Fresh off its first three-game sweep of LSU since 2008, Tennessee is out to its best start in Southeastern Conference play in 20 years.
The Volunteers (21-4, 5-1) rose as high as No. 7 in the polls Monday and are a consensus top-10 team.
The team had two SEC sweeps over the first three seasons under coach Tony Vitello, against Alabama in 2018 and Kentucky in 2019. The feeling with those wasn’t the same as it was this weekend after taking three games at home against one of the biggest brands in college baseball.
“Momentum is a real thing in sports,” Vitello said, “and wins like (these) can give our guys momentum literally throughout the entire year because it’s a top program, there’s top talent.
“It does mean a little bit more and it does give you confidence. You’d like to think one cup equals one cup, but that’s not the case in sports, which is one of the reasons it’s real fun.”
The second and third wins over LSU were extra-inning walk-offs, too. Drew Gilbert’s homer in the bottom of the 11th gave the Vols a 9-8 win. Tennessee won the finale 3-2 on Luc Lipcius’ RBI single in the bottom of the eighth, ending a game originally scheduled for seven innings for travel reasons.
Evan Russell tied a school record with three homers in the second game. He had gone into the game batting .154 with one home run and 20 strikeouts in 52 at-bats.
“It would have been really tough to swallow to lose a game where a Tennessee Vol had an effort like that,” Vitello said. “We salvaged an epic day by Evan Russell when we won that game.”
Russell is among five seniors who have been in the program since Vitello took over in 2018. The Vols went 13 years without an NCAA Tournament appearance until they broke through in 2019 and made a regional final. They haven’t had a winning record in SEC play since 2005.
The Vols opened 13-0 and were ranked as high as No. 11 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and this year they’ve already posted their most sweeps (four) since 2004.
“I feel like we’re in the talks to be one of the top programs in the nation,” Russell said, “and it’s really nice going into the locker room and seeing guys that aren’t surprised.”
IN THE POLLS
Vanderbilt (19-3) remains ranked No. 1 by D1Baseball.com and Collegiate Baseball newspaper, and Arkansas (19-3) stayed at the top of the Baseball America rankings.
The Nos. 2 and 3 teams are Arkansas and Mississippi (20-4) by D1Baseball, Mississippi and Texas Tech (19-4) by Collegiate Baseball and Vanderbilt and Mississippi by Baseball America.
SWEEPS WEEK IN SEC
Vanderbilt took three at Missouri and extended its SEC road win streak to 12. Arkansas swept Mississippi State on the road in a matchup of the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in last week’s Baseball America rankings.
Mississippi is 6-0 in SEC play for the first time since 1969 after taking three on the road against Alabama. South Carolina swept Florida for the first time since 2006. Kentucky picked up its first road sweep of Auburn since 2004 and its first SEC road sweep since 2017.
Georgia-Texas A&M was the only series that wasn’t a sweep. The Aggies took two of three.
CHINTZY HORNED FROGS
TCU opened its Big 12 schedule with an impressive sweep over Baylor. The Horned Frogs outscored the Bears 24-4, the fewest runs they’ve allowed in a three-game conference series since March 2018. Baylor entered the series averaging eight runs per game.
The Horned Frogs got outstanding starting pitching. Russell Smith threw a career-high 6 2/3 scoreless innings Friday, Austin Krob struck out nine and allowed one hit in seven shutout innings Saturday and Johnny Ray allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings Sunday.
Arizona freshmen Jacob Berry and Daniel Susac are on offensive tears.
Berry was 9 for 13 with two doubles and six RBIs in three games against Oregon. He raised his batting average to .449 and RBI total to 31, both of which rank first among freshmen at Power 5 schools.
Susac homered twice and doubled twice while going 4 for 5 on Sunday, and he finished the series 6 of 13 with six RBIs.
Berry and Susac have combined to bat .380 with 40 runs scored and 55 RBIs through 23 games.