HOOVER, Alabama – Tennessee has been the No. 1 team in the nation most of this season, including seven weeks as the unanimous pick.
The Volunteers (49-7, 25-5) set a record for regular season wins in sweeping six of 10 SEC series to win their first regular season title since 1995. They are only the third team in league history to win 25 or more conference games.
They dominated the All-SEC team with Tony Vitello taking coach of the year, Chase Dollander pitcher of the year and pitcher Drew Bream freshman of the year.
Tennessee is expected to be the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA postseason that begins next week.
All that after reaching the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, last year for the first time since 2005. That did not end well, however, as Tennessee went 0-for-2 with losses to Virginia and Texas.
Neither did the SEC Tournament, which, by the way, the Vols have never won, outside of a trio of East titles in 1993-95 when the tournament was split. Arkansas beat Tennessee, 7-2, in the 2021 tournament title game here at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
“Yeah, there’s probably a little bit of that,” Vitello said Tuesday. “You wouldn’t be a competitor if you didn’t have that in the back of your mind a little bit.”
Top-seeded Tennessee will play No. 8 seed Vanderbilt (36-19, 14-16) at approximately 9 p.m. eastern Wednesday, unless there is more rain. That game was originally set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, but weather delays Tuesday pushed everything back.
Vanderbilt beat No. 9 seed Ole Miss, 3-1, in a late game Tuesday that ended at 1:51 a.m. eastern time Wednesday. That start time was pushed to 11 p.m. Tuesday by two rain delays totaling two hours and 41 minutes in the tournament opener Tuesday morning in which Alabama eliminated Georgia, 5-3.
No. 7 seed Florida then eliminated No. 10 seed South Carolina, 2-1, in 10 innings in the second game that stretched into Tuesday night.
Tennessee swept Vanderbilt this season, 6-2, 5-2 and 5-0 in Nashville on April 1-3. The Vols did not play Arkansas, where Vitello was an assistant from 2014-17 before coming to Tennessee.
“There hasn’t been talk around me. There may have been talk amongst the guys,” Vitello said of the Arkansas loss last year.
A capacity crowd of 10,176 watched that final.
“Dude, I’m just telling you, like the National Anthem was insane,” Vitello said. “Our fans showed out. I mean, to match Arkansas’s baseball fan base is an insane deal, in itself, as well.”
No. 3 seed Arkansas (38-16, 18-12) plays Alabama (30-25, 12-17) in the second game Wednesday at approximately 2 p.m. That was supposed to be the Wednesday opener, but Tuesday’s scheduled fourth game between No. 5 seed Auburn (37-18, 16-13) and No. 12 seed Kentucky (30-24, 12-18) was moved to 10:30 a.m. Wednesday because of the rain delays on Tuesday.
No. 2 seed Texas A&M (35-17. 19-11) will play the third game Wednesday against Florida.
No. 4 seed LSU (37-18, 17-13), meanwhile, will now play at 10:30 a.m. Thursday against the Auburn-Kentucky winner from Wednesday morning. LSU was originally scheduled to play the fourth game Wednesday.
“So, LSU is the first team in SEC Tournament history to receive a double bye – Tuesday and Wednesday,” SEC communications director Chuck Dunlap joked.
That could mean more boiled crabs for the suites and pressbox. Cooking LSU fans dropped off several batches Tuesday.
More showers are in the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, but Vitello has not let the rain damper his excitement for the tournament.
“It’s just kind of go time,” he said. “It’s just different to experience this SEC Tournament. And it is like a playoff vibe for a Regional or anything that would follow that. Last year’s team was fun. But I think this group has really almost kind of gone out of their way to carve out the niche of, ‘We are the 2022 team.’”