By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
Tennessee had a chance to clinch a spot in the SEC Baseball Tournament over the weekend against Vanderbilt. The Commodores came into Knoxville having lost six straight and seven of nine in SEC play. The Volunteers were coming off a monster series win against Kentucky the weekend before.
Vanderbilt pushed ahead to a five-run lead in the series opener. A grand slam by Benito Santiago cut the deficit to one. Tennessee had two on in the eighth before a strikeout and a double play ended the inning as the Commodores took game one.. The Vols dropped game two on Saturday before avoiding the sweep with a win on Sunday.
It’s an opportunity missed for a team trying to get back into the postseason with a first-year head coach. The good news is Tennessee still controls its own destiny heading into the regular season finale against Missouri.
If the season ended today the Vols would have the 12th seed in the SEC Tournament. Tennessee leads the Tigers by a game for the last spot. The scenario is simple: series win and the Vols are in.
But Tennessee isn’t merely limited to simply sneaking into the field as the last one in either. The Vols are within two games of the next five teams in front of them. Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Mississippi State are all tied with 12 SEC Wins this year. Auburn and Kentucky each have 13. Tennessee’s win over the Commodores on Sunday was its 11th of the season.
The Vols didn’t see Auburn or Mississippi State this year. Tennessee has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Aggies and the Wildcats. Vanderbilt and Kentucky square off in Nashville this weekend. Mississippi State gets top-ranked Florida. Texas A&M gets a visit from South Carolina. Auburn hosts LSU.
Ultimately Tennessee would be happy with a series win over Missouri to put itself into the SEC Tournament. A nice feather in the cap of Tony Vitello given the expectations the Volunteers were given at the start of the year. However, the postseason could have a very different outlook should Tennessee sweep the Tigers and get some help.
Let’s say Vanderbilt rides the momentum of its series win over the Vols to another one over Kentucky at home, South Carolina goes into College Station and takes two from the Aggies and Florida handles its business against Mississippi State. What if LSU sweeps Auburn?
If all those pieces fell into place Tennessee would be eighth in the SEC. Sure, it’s a lot to hope for from a conference that has been full of parity all season long, but the Vols going from projected to finish dead last in the SEC East to a top-ten seed in the conference tourney would change the outlook of Vitello’s first season at the helm.
But first things first. beat Missouri and the season-long goal of getting into the SEC Tournament is complete. Anything beyond that for Tennessee is an added bonus.