HOOVER, Alabama – Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin knows great college baseball.
He built the Commodores from nothing beginning in 2003 and and reached five College World Series, winning national titles in 2014 and ’19 and finishing second in 2015 and ’21 while also winning four Southeastern Conference titles and two tournament crowns.
Corbin saw that kind of team in No. 1-ranked Tennessee for the fourth time this season Thursday night, losing 10-1 in the SEC Tournament in front of 10,800 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, and his team was never really in the game. The Volunteers swept the Commodores in the regular season, 6-2, 5-2 and 5-0 in Nashville.
“Just one of the better teams that I’ve seen in the 20 years that I’ve been around,” Corbin said. “Without question.”
And just four years ago there were only 1,312 fans listed in Lindsay Nelson Stadium for coach Tony Vitello’s Tennessee debut on Feb. 16, 2018 – a 4-0 loss to Maryland. Vitello’s dad Greg thought it was a lot less than that.
“They play with a tremendous amount of confidence,” Corbin said. “They’re older. They don’t hurt themselves. And they can match up from a pitching standpoint in every area. They can go hard and soft.”
Tennessee accepted its first SEC championship trophy since 2005 before the game from league commissioner Greg Sankey. Then the Volunteers (50-7) reached 50 wins in a season for the first time since a 54-16 mark in 1995 that included a trip to the College World Series.
The Vols outhit the former titans of the SEC 10-5 and committed no errors to four by the Commodores.
“I’m not saying attacking just offensively,” Corbin continued as if mesmerized. He was 6-3 vs. Vitello before the 0-for-4 this season.
“They’re attacking on the mound. They’re attacking defensively,” Corbin said. “And they’re attacking offensively. Tony’s done a good job with them and their whole staff has. Not a good night for us defensively. Not to take away from them, OK. That team offensively did some damage.”
Tennessee won the seventh game of this tournament to advance to play in the 12th game late Friday against No. 4 seed LSU (38-18), which beat No. 12 seed Kentucky, 11-6, in the late game Thursday that finished at 2:24 a.m. eastern time Friday. And LSU did that without injured stars Jacob Berry (.381, 15 HRs, 47 RBIs) and Cade Doughty (.286, 12 HRs, 51 RBIs) in the lineup due to injuries.
“Regardless of who we’re playing, we’ve got to understand, it’s a dangerous game in this league,” said Vitello, who did drop his only SEC series this season to 12th place Kentucky. “That’s why you’ve got to stay ready to compete at all times.”
LSU and Tennessee last met in the Super Regional at Tennessee last year with the Vols sweeping two games and reaching the College World Series for the first time since 2005.
Vanderbilt (36-20) plays Friday afternoon against Kentucky (31-24) in an elimination game.
Tennessee starter Blade Tidwell (3-1) pitched four and a third innings for the win, allowing three hits and one run with three walks and three strikeouts before four relievers.
Junior college transfer phenom Ben Joyce, who has been clocked at 105 mph, threw the ninth inning as 29 credentialed Major League Baseball scouts behind home plate whipped out the radar guns.
Tennessee erupted for five runs in the third inning on five hits to take a 6-0 lead and knocked out Vanderbilt starter Devin Futrell in the process.
Seth Stephenson singled to lead off and scored for a 2-0 lead on Jorel Ortega’s double to left field. After Futrell got Jordan Beck to fly out to left, Drew Gilbert singled in a run for a 3-0 lead, and Nick Maldonado replaced Futrell with a 2-and-2 count, then hit Trey Lipscomb. Evan Russell followed with an RBI double, and it was 4-0. Luc Lipcius’ sacrifice fly and Christian Moore’s RBI single made it 6-0.
“We were ready to get out there and play,” Russell said after Tennessee’s original tournament opener was postponed from Wednesday with the team being in town since Monday. “It felt like we had been in the hotel for a month.”
Futrell (8-3) allowed four runs on five hits in taking the loss with a walk and a strikeout.
Tennessee made it 7-0 in the fourth on an RBI single by Lipscomb. Vanderbilt’s Carter Young led off the fifth with a home run, cutting its deficit to 7-1. Tennessee pinch-hitter Blake Burke hit his 11th home run of the season for an 8-1 lead in the fifth.
Cortland Lawson homered for the 11th time this season for a 9-1 lead in the seventh, and Lipcius’ RBI groundout made it 10-1 in the eighth.
“They’re hard guys,” Corbin said. “They’re difficult because they command the ball. They command the ball to several different pitches. And they’re attacking. And they’re attacking from all areas.”
As far as postseason, the Volunteers are only just getting started, but Corbin sounds like he has clearly seen enough.
FRIDAY AT SEC TOURNAMENT (All times eastern with games 2-4 estimated starts.)
No. 7 seed Florida (36-21) vs. No. 3 Arkansas (38-17), 10:30 a.m.
No. 8 Vanderbilt (36-20) vs. No. 12 Kentucky (31-24), 2 p.m.
No. 11 Alabama (31-25) vs. No. 2 Texas A&M (37-17), 5:30 p.m.
No. 1 Tennessee (50-7) vs. No. 4 LSU (38-18), 9 p.m.