Tennessee baseball obliterates LSU, seals first College World Series berth since 2005
Jordan Beck sent a ball off the chain-link fence separating Lindsey Nelson Stadium from Todd Helton Drive on Sunday — and sent the stadium into chaos.
The Vols outfielder waved his arms to the crowd as he stepped on home plate and hopped twice toward his Tennessee baseball teammates.
Tony Vitello barely moved amid the madness. The Vols coach stood at his usual spot on the rail in the Tennessee dugout and observed as the program he crafted into a juggernaut in four years had its finest day yet in his tenure.
Tennessee obliterated LSU, 15-6, to clinch its first College World Series berth since 2005.
“It is hard to put into words, going to Omaha," Vitello said. "We will be dancing in the streets like crazy (Sunday). … I think the next thing is the most important. That means we have a chance to make it to the national championship series.”
Tennessee is making its fifth appearance in Omaha. UT also reached the College World Series in 1951, 1995 and 2001.
The Vols (50-16) will face the winner of the Columbia Super Regional. Dallas Baptist and Virginia play Monday for a trip to Omaha and the chance to face UT, the No. 3 national seed. The College World Series begins Saturday, with the Vols opening play the following day.
“With this group, you better be ready to watch," outfielder Evan Russell said. "We are always on the hunt to do some pretty cool things.”
WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM:John Fulkerson interrupts WBIR's live shot following Tennessee baseball's CWS-clinching win
Tennessee has won all five of its NCAA Tournament games, sweeping both the Knoxville Regional and Super Regional. The Vols have hit 16 homers in the NCAA Tournament.
“Tony has done a terrific job here," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who is retiring and coached his final game Sunday. "It has always been kind of a sleeping giant. He has brought it back to life."
Tennessee did not make the SEC Tournament in Vitello's first season in 2018. The Vols reached the NCAA Tournament in 2019 for the first time since the 2005 College World Series trip.
Vitello expressed confidence Sunday that the 2020 Vols could have reached Omaha if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. They had to wait a year longer instead to make another breakthrough.
“I just wanted to get this thing to where people were proud of it," Vitello said.
Tennessee fans chanted "O-ma-ha" throughout the ninth inning, which Redmond Walsh finished by recording the final two outs — a strikeout and a lineout to third baseman Jake Rucker. The chants turned to "To-ny" following a dog pile next to the pitcher's mound and a celebration.
"Even though it was a nice celebration out there after winning today, for some reason it is expected," Russell said. "I don’t think anyone is ready for this to end. I know for a fact no one wants this to end with us holding our heads down."
UT topped LSU 4-2 in the super regional opener Saturday before it blasted the Tigers on Sunday. The Vols homered six times to set a single-game postseason record. They set the previous record eight days prior against Liberty during the regional.
Beck had the biggest blast Sunday, putting Tennessee ahead 9-2 in the fifth. Rucker homered in his first two at-bats. The Vols buried the Tigers early and kept going, slugging to win No. 50 this season.
Five more wins would set a Tennessee program record, topping the 1995 team's 54 wins. It also would mean Tennessee wins the first national championship in its history.
“We are ready to go right now," Rucker said. "Not a lot of teams get the chance and not a lot of players get the chance to go to Omaha. Obviously, that is an awesome feat. We are going to be ready to go.”
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.