Tennessee baseball: Vols end 14-year NCAA Tournament drought

Tony Vitello has returned Tennessee baseball to its best days from Rod Delmonico. The Volunteers made it to the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

In 2005, Tennessee baseball made the College World Series as one of the youngest teams in the NCAA. But they missed out on the NCAA Tournament the next two years, and then Mike Hamilton fired Rod Delmonico.

Todd Raleigh then came in for four years, and Dave Serrano came in for six, but neither could get the Vols to the postseason. However, in Tony Vitello’s second season, it has finally come to an end. It was confirmed that Tennessee baseball punched a ticket to the 64-team NCAA Tournament on Monday.

The last time the Vols made the tournament, Tennessee football had won three of four against the Florida Gators and nine of 10 against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Florida’s 11-game winning streak would begin later that year.

There are other signs of how far back that was. Bruce Pearl had not coached a game for Tennessee basketball but was recently hired. Phillip Fulmer was coming off an SEC East Title and entering 2005 with top 5 expectations. Women’s basketball was about to enter a new elite era with Candace Parker. Oh, and Mike Hamilton was still respected.

On a national scale, Peyton Manning was still ringless. Nick Saban had just left the LSU Tigers for the Miami Dolphins. Urban Meyer had just accepted the head coaching job with the Florida Gators. LeBron James had still never made the NBA Playoffs.

At 38-19, the Vols made it as a No. 2 seed in the Chapel Hill Regional, where the North Carolina Tar Heels are hosting as the No. 1 seed. UNC is the No. 14 seed overall in the tournament. The top 16 seeds get to host regionals.

Joining those two teams in the double elimination bracket are the No. 3 seed Liberty Flames and the UNC Wilmington Seahawks. Tennessee baseball will play Liberty at 7 p.m. this Friday. The tournament will last throughout the weekend.

The Vols’ entry to the NCAA Tournament comes despite them having a losing record in the SEC. Their games this weekend will be available for viewing on the ESPN channels, either online or one of the cable outlets.

The winner of the Chapel Hill Regional will face the winner of the Atlanta Regional the next weekend in the Super Regionals. That regional includes the No. 3 overall seed Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Florida A&M Rattlers, Auburn Tigers, and Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. Whichever team wins that weekend will advance to the College World Series.

This is clearly a new thing for Tennessee baseball, but it’s a remarkable feat for Vitello in his second year at the helm. The program has not been one worthy of coverage in a long time, and although a College World Series is not expected, it’s still worth celebrating them just making it this far given the program’s history.