No, this was not the College World Series trip Tennessee baseball wanted. The Vols lost their first two games on their trip to Omaha, Neb., one to the unseeded Virginia Cavaliers, despite being the second-highest seed in the event and the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
To make matters worse, the program is likely to take a step back next year with a lot of talent leaving. This seemed to be the team for fans to be the most heavily invested in. However, one day later, the program has more to celebrate than complain about.
We can start with the obvious. Tennessee baseball hadn’t reached the NCAA Tournament for 13 straight years before Tony Vitello got them back there in his second year in 2019. The next year there was a baseball postseason, he got them to the College World Series.
Then there’s the recruiting and personnel factor. The Vols just added Missouri Tigers transfer pitcher Seth Halvorsen, and there’s a chance they have him for two years. Either way, he’ll keep the program afloat next year. Then there are the recent commitments of Amari Jefferson and Tate Strickland. Simply put, UT was loading up on future talent during this CWS trip.
Most importantly, though, it appears as if Vitello is staying around. The fear on Rocky Top was that the LSU Tigers, a more prestigious baseball program who are looking for a new head coach with the retirement of Paul Mainieri, would poach the Vols.
However, Vitello said in his postgame press conference after UT’s loss to the Texas Longhorns Tuesday that he had not been in contact with LSU. Then came a report from The Advertiser Wednesday that LSU’s top three candidates were Jay Johnson of the Arizona Wildcats, Cliff Godwin of the East Carolina Pirates and Link Jarrett of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Taking those tidbits of information into account, either every source close to the matter is blatantly lying, or Vitello is not in the running for the LSU job. That combined with the emotion he showed for his team Tuesday suggests he’s definitely staying in Knoxville. There’s also a report from Jayson Swain of Swain Event that the Vols are set to open up the checkbook for him.
So let’s recap. Tennessee baseball just reached the College World Series for the first time in 16 years. The recruiting trail shows they are about to continue to add talent. Vitello, who single-handedly rebuilt this program, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. When you see all this, it’s obvious why fans celebrated UT’s return from Nebraska Wednesday.
Going forward, the future of the baseball program looks bright. Even if the team doesn’t make it back to the College World Series next year, it’ll be a perennial contender, and that’s leaps and bounds better than where it has been for the past 15 years.
All you can ask for in any sport is to remain in the conversation with the best every year. Tennessee baseball seems to have finally reached that status with Vitello as head coach, and given the future signs, one College World Series elimination won’t change that.