Love ‘em or hate ’em, record-setting Vols just keep winning
The beat goes on for Tennessee.
The top-ranked Volunteers (31-1) became the first Southeastern Conference team to open 12-0 in league play after they took three games from Missouri in Knoxville over the weekend.
They also have won an SEC record-tying 23 games in a row and 81 of their last 100.
The Vols are not lacking for confidence. In fact, fifth-year coach Tony Vitello said one of his challenges is to get his players to “tame” their emotions.
Their home run celebrations have made them a target for critics the past year. The most high-profile example was Drew Gilbert’s walk-off grand slam against Wright State in NCAA regionals last year. He flipped his bat high into the air, skipped and jumped down the first- and third-base lines and heaved his helmet like a discus before he touched home.
“We took that villain role and we fed off that,” relief pitcher Redmond Walsh said. “We’ve got guys like Drew Gilbert who, legit, wants to fight everybody it feels like and be the guy that has a target on his back.”
In the opener of the series at Vanderbilt on April 1, Jordan Beck’s first-inning homer was disallowed because his bat was deemed illegal on a technicality and he was called out. When Luc Lipcius homered the next inning and crossed the plate, he put his bat up to his eyes and stared at the barrel as if to inspect it to make sure it was legal.
“I said some choice words to the umpire and their dugout and ... it was one of those things you had to do, to get back at them and make it a little chippy,” Lipcius said.
“People haven’t really liked us since we’ve been good,” Lipcius said. “They’re used to us being just the people that lay down for you. Now that we’re here, it’s ruffling some feathers and people really don’t like it. I think the style of ball we play, too — a lot of emotion gets under people’s skin. Let them do whatever they want. We’re going to keep winning.”
IN THE POLLS
Tennessee is the consensus No. 1 team for the third straight week.
The No. 3 team is Oregon State (24-7) by D1Baseball, Oklahoma State (23-9) by Baseball America and Louisville (23-8) by Collegiate Baseball.
Oregon State had never swept Southern California in Los Angeles until this past weekend.
The Beavers outscored USC 19-6 in the three games, with their starting pitchers allowing a combined two runs and 10 hits in 17 innings and striking out 15. Oregon State pitchers combined for 21 strikeouts and no walks over 27 innings.
West Virginia, picked second to last in the Big 12 in the preseason, sits atop the conference standings with Oklahoma State coming to Morgantown this weekend for a league showdown.
The Mountaineers (20-10) have won five of six to start Big 12 play. They took three games from Baylor over the weekend for their first conference sweep since 2018.
RUTGERS ON ROLL
Rutgers is just past the midway point of what so far has been its best season since 2007, when it shared the Big East championship and made its most recent NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Big Ten-leading Scarlet Knights (25-6, 8-1) have won 10 in a row following a three-game sweep at Nebraska. The streak is their longest since 2004.
Rutgers finished off the Cornhuskers with a 19-1 win and is in the top 10 nationally in scoring at 9.2 runs per game.
The Scarlet Knights have been unable to crack the national rankings. Attribute that to a schedule strength ranking of 209th and playing in the No. 8 conference in RPI, just behind the Missouri Valley and Sun Belt.
Long Beach State lost two of three at Cal Poly, but the Dirtbags’ win was a doozy: LBSU collected a national season-high 32 hits on its way to a 28-2 victory Saturday. The hit total and 26-run margin were program records.
Cal Poly had never given up so many hits, and the 28 runs were tied for most ever allowed by the Mustangs.