The No. 16 Tennessee Volunteers are set to open the 2022 baseball season this afternoon against the Georgia Southern Eagles at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The weekend series presents a competitive matchup with recent history. The Vols traveled to Statesboro, Ga. last year to begin their run to Omaha by sweeping the Eagles in their own nest.
Despite key departures and a some concerning injuries going into the tilt, Tennessee looks to carry its momentum from a 50-win season in 2021 and continue to build on head coach Tony Vitello’s vision. Winning another series against a reputable Sun Belt program should get Tony V and his bunch moving in the right direction as they navigate through a different lineup and make shift starting rotation to tee things off.
Here are some important notes to factor heading into the weekend series.
Tennessee at GSU (2021)
- The Vols were successful in Statesboro in last season’s series, yet the bats recorded a season-high 16 strikeouts in the opener. GSU went on to fan 45 batters in orange for the series.
- Despite the high SO rate against the Eagles, Tennessee belted five home runs, as well as five doubles.
- Jordan Beck started the 2021 season with a bang, recording a homer and 3 RBI in the Friday game. He and fellow junior Drew Gilbert accounted for four of the dingers in the series, providing enough spark for the offense to overcome some stellar pitching efforts from Georgia Southern.
- Vol newcomer Chase Dollander, a GSU transfer, worked Tennessee to the tune of eight strikeouts – allowing one run on three hits. The 2021 Perfect Game First Team All-American logged 5.2 IP, surrendering just one base runner in Game 2.
- Good news for Tennessee: A huge part of the Eagles rotation is now gone. Nick Jones, a 2021 NCBWA First-team All-American, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2021. He threw 7 SO in a perfect 3.2 IP against the Vols last season
- Another departure is GSU’s Tyler Owens. Last season’s leader in service struck out 10 UT batters in Game 1 down in Statesboro.
Replacing Key Parts
- Highly productive Tennessee players from 2021 are off to pro ball. Liam Spence, Max Ferguson and Jake Rucker come to mind as huge holes to fill. The aforementioned were primarily the top of UT’s lineup last season.
- Spence, Ferguson and Rucker were three of Tennessee’s top four run producers in 2021. They collectively accounted for 157 runs.
- The Vols will rely heavily on preseason All-SEC candidates Beck and Gilbert. The two outfielders led Tennessee in RBI last season, with 64 and 62 respectively. Vitello mentioned in his fall wrap-up presser that Beck “may have had the best fall out of anyone offensively.”
- Junior Cortland Lawson and senior Trey Lipscomb may be viable options for the left side of the infield and possibly the top of the lineup. Lawson, who Vitello tabbed as “most improved” coming out of the fall, was the only Vol to record an OPS over 1.000, albeit doing so in only 14 AB.
- According to Vitello, Lipscomb flashes some stellar defense. The head coach mentioned in the spring opening presser that the junior infielder “might be they best (they) have had” on that side during his Tennessee tenure.
- The Vols will be without All-American Blade Tidwell for some time due to a shoulder issue.
- Senior Camden Sewell is also nursing a finger injury, likely sidelining him for at least the opening series.
A Veteran and a Riser
- Georgia Southern head coach Rodney Hennon enters his 23rd season with the Eagles. He has won more than 800 games overall in college ball. Hennon has guided GSU to four championship appearances in the last five years.
- Hennon’s success with the program has never wavered despite changing competition. In 2015, the Eagles made their debut in the Sun Belt after departing from the SoCon.
- GSU finished with a 34-23 record last season, falling to South Alabama in the conference championship game.
- Tennessee starts right where it began last season – sitting at No. 16 in the USA TODAY coaches poll.
- The Vols are 65-20 in their last 85 games, with 41 of those victories coming at home. Tony V has already collected 134 wins in just over 200 career games as a head coach.
- Vitello was not only named Coach of the Year by Perfect Game and CBWA in 2021, he also received the honor of Knox News Sportsperson of the Year.
Tennessee will look much different in its 2022 debut. However, the Vols are familiar with the Eagles and should be put to the test right out of the gate on Friday. GSU will be hungry for revenge and is certainly capable of pulling the upset. Tennessee will have to rely on production from the thickest part of the lineup, much like last year’s series. The difference may come down to what arms prevail, in a battle where new faces have to emerge on the mound.
Gallatin native Chase Burns gets the nod from Tony Vitello in his college debut. He will be pitted against sophomore Ty Fisher, a transfer from Tennessee Tech. The start time for Friday’s game has been moved to 4:00 p.m. , according to utsports.com .