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2022 College Top 25 Preview: No. 17 Tennessee

Last season: 50-18 (20-10 in SEC), reached College World Series
Final ranking: No. 8
Coach (record at school): Tony Vitello (134-68, four years)

The good news: Tennessee last season advanced to the College World Series for the first time since 2005. The Volunteers had been building to that breakthrough throughout Vitello’s tenure in Knoxville, as they won 40 games and reached a regional in 2019 and were off to a hot start in 2020. Recruiting has been strong under Vitello and the fruits of that can be seen with the development of outfielders Jordan Beck and Drew Gilbert and righthander Blade Tidwell, all of whom have lofty draft ceilings. Tidwell gives the Volunteers an ace and the addition of newcomers Chase Burns, the highest rated prep pitcher to make it to campus in 2021, and Chase Dollander, a transfer from Georgia Southern, bolsters the rotation. Offensively, the return of Beck, Gilbert and veterans Luc Lipcius and Evan Russell mean the Tennessee lineup will again pack a punch.

The bad news: The Volunteers lost some key members of last year’s CWS team that they now will have to replace. Tennessee lost ace Chad Dallas and relief ace Sean Hunley, as well as the infield trio of Max Ferguson, Liam Spence and Jake Rucker and catcher Connor Pavolony. That’s a lot of experience and production that now must be accounted for. With Tidwell ready to pitch on Friday nights, the return of veteran reliever Redmond Walsh and the additions of Burns and Dollander, Tennessee should be well positioned on the mound. The answers in the infield are not as easy, however. Tennessee has quality options, but only Lipcius has any significant SEC experience. The Vols should be able to put out a solid defensive infield, but they’re unlikely to have the same offensive impact they did in 2021.

Player to know: Blade Tidwell, RHP

Tidwell made a big jump in velocity just before the 2020 draft and carried that momentum into his freshman year. He went 10-3, 3.74 and struck out 90 batters in 99 innings, emerging as the Volunteers No. 2 starter. He this summer pitched with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and now enters the spring as a potential first-round pick. With a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and a good slider, his power stuff could make him the best pitcher in the SEC.

Path to Omaha: Tennessee’s breakthrough 2021 season was a reminder of how high the ceiling is in Knoxville. Returning to Omaha in 2022 won’t be easy after losing so much talent to the draft, but a deep run in June is certainly possible with its pitching staff. With the Volunteers running out a rotation of Tidwell, Dollander and Burns and a bullpen featuring Seth Halvorsen, Camden Sewell and Walsh, their pitching can carry them a long way. Beck and Gilbert give the offense a pair of stars to build around and if some of the more inexperienced players like Moore and Trey Lipscomb take to their new roles, Tennessee doesn’t have to take a step back. Executing a season where it seamlessly reloads is the next step for the resurgent program.

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2022 Lineup

CEvan RussellR-Sr..238.342.5002061443
1BLuc LipciusR-Sr..240.357.4802251542
2BChristian MooreFr.HS—Brooklyn
3BTrey LipscombR-Jr..310.412.5172919
SSLogan SteenstraR-Jr..292.462.5004806
LFKyle BookerSo..310.382.44858110
CFDrew GilbertR-So..274.341.4372701062
RFJordan BeckR-So..271.336.5232581564
DHBlake BurkeFr.
HS—Brentwood, Calif.
RHPBlade TidwellSo.1033.7499900
RHPChase DollanderSo.
Transfer—Georgia Southern
RHPChase BurnsFr.
HS—Gallatin, Tenn.
RPKirby ConnellR-So.
RPRedmond WalshR-Sr.512.5239405

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