Baseball Preview: Tennessee vs. Western Illinois

Credit: UT Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – It’s Baseball Time in Tennessee! The Vols open their 2020 season on Friday afternoon as they welcome Western Illinois to Lindsey Nelson Stadium to kick off a three-game series.

The Volunteers are coming of their best season in over a decade and have high hopes this year after advancing to an NCAA regional in 2019 for the first time since 2005. The Big Orange return 19 letterwinners, including five starting position players and seven pitchers.

Broadcast Info
All three games this weekend will be streamed online via WatchESPN.com and the ESPN app. Andy Brock will have the call for each game.

The entire series will also feature a live audio broadcast on UTSports.com.

Series History vs. Western Illinois
Overall: 0-0 | First Meeting
In Knoxville: N/A
In Macomb: N/A
Neutral Sites: N/A
Last Meeting: N/A

This will be the first-ever meeting between the two programs. UT is 7-0 all-time against teams from the Summit League entering this weekend.

Notable
Preseason Honors Aplenty
Tennessee had a handful of players earn preseason accolades heading into this season, including three players who earned preseason All-America honors.

Alerick Soularie was named a preseason All-American by D1Baseball.com (First Team), the NCBWA (Second Team), Baseball America (Second Team) and Perfect Game (Third Team). The junior outfielder was also a preseason All-SEC first team selection.

Junior pitcher Garrett Crochet also earned multiple preseason All-America honors, garnering recognition from Baseball America (First Team) and Perfect Game (Third Team). Crochet and Soularie are the first UT players to earn first-team preseason All-America honors since Nick Senzel in 2016.

Redmond Walsh was the last Vol to earn preseason All-America recognition after being chosen as a second-team selection by the NCBWA. The redshirt junior relief pitcher was also named to the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Preseason Watch List.

Vols Looking to Carry Momentum from 2019 Success
The Vols had their best season in over a decade in 2019, winning 40 games and advancing to the postseason for the first time since 2005. UT also won 14 SEC games and five series in conference play, which were also the most since 2005. The Big Orange went 2-2 at the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional, finishing as the runner-up to host North Carolina.

Other notable achievements from last season include:

  • Three series wins against ranked teams (Most since 2014)
  • Third-place finish in the SEC Eastern Division (Highest since 2005)
  • Best start to a season in program history (15-0)
  • 26 non-conference wins (Most since 2000)
  • Ranked in the top 25 for 10 weeks (Most since 2005)
  • Three players earned ABCA All-South Region honors (Tied for most in program history)

Plenty of Arms
Pitching looks to be a strength again this season for the Vols. Tennessee had one of the top pitching staffs in the country last season. UT tied a program record with 10 shutouts and racked up 551 strikeouts (second most in program history). The Big Orange had a 3.59 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .239 batting average (lowest since 1996). At season’s end, UT’s pitching staff was ranked among the top 25 nationally in shutouts (second), strikeout-to-walk ratio (ninth), WHIP (10th), walks allowed per nine innings (14th) and ERA (19th).

Despite losing three pitchers to the MLB Draft, the Big Orange bring back plenty of experience and added some talented arms from the junior college ranks. Crochet is expected to be the ace of the staff and has been projected as a potential top 10 pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. The Vols also return Walsh, Camden SewellSean HunleyWill HeflinChase Wallace and Elijah Pleasants from last year’s staff.

Junior college transfers Jackson Leath, Jason Rackers, Chad Dallas and Kody Davidson as well as freshmen Drew Gilbert and Ethan Anderson should give UT great depth and options out of the bullpen this season.

Big Shoes to Fill
The Vols will have some big shoes to fill as they had six players selected in the 2019 MLB Draft (most since 2015) and seven total players sign contracts to play professional baseball. Andre Lipcius (third round), Garrett Stallings (fifth round), Andrew Schultz (sixth round), Zach Linginfelter (ninth round), Ricky Martinez (18th round) and Jay Charleston (26th round) were all among those picked.

With the 83rd overall pick by the Detroit Tigers, Lipcius became the highest-drafted UT player since Senzel went No. 2 overall in 2016. The junior had a huge year at the plate, leading the team and setting career highs with 17 home runs and 58 RBI. Vitello has now coached seven players during his two seasons with the Vols that have been drafted.

Opponent Scout
Western Illinois Leathernecks  

  • 2019 Record: 22-31 (16-14 Summit League)
  • 2019 Postseason: N/A
  • The Leathernecks are led by first-year head coach Andy Pascoe, who was hired to take over the program in September of 2019 after assistant coaching stints at Butler and his alma mater, Evansville.
  • Western Illinois was picked to finish fifth in the Summit League Preseason Poll.
  • WIU returns 18 letterwinners from last year’s team that finished third in the Summit League.
  • The Leathernecks return a pair of players that earned All-Summit League first team honors last season in outfielder Drue Galassi and starting pitcher Javin Drake.

Game Promotions
Upcoming promotions for all Tennessee athletics home events can be found on the UT Fan Experience page by clicking HERE.

NEW THIS SEASON

  • Triple Play Pack: Receive a reserved ticket, a $10 concession voucher and a premium Tennessee baseball t-shirt for just $20!

FRIDAY

  • Happy VOLentine’s Day: First 100 fans will receive a free box of chocolate.
  • Free Food Friday: First 50 students will get free Chick-fil-A!

SATURDAY

  • Family Four Pack: Four tickets, four hot dogs, four drinks for EVERY Saturday game this season!

SUNDAY

  • Kids Day: All kids 12 and under receive free admission. Run the bases and get postgame autographs from select players (weather permitting).
    • First 50 kids in attendance will receive a free Kids Combo meal.
  • Smokey X in Attendance (weather permitting)
  • First Pitch: Mayor Glenn Jacobs

On Deck for the Vols
After this weekend’s season-opening series, Tennessee will host Charlotte on Tuesday, Feb. 18 for the first midweek game of the year. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Gameday/Stadium Policies & Information
All of the information listed below and more can be found on the Tennessee Baseball Gameday Information page HERE.

Parking
Baseball parking is located primarily in Lots GF3, GF4, and S23 at the Haslam Music Center. Lots C1, C22 and G16 are available only on dates that Thompson-Boling Arena and Neyland Stadium have no scheduled events.

Additional street parking is located in C10 along Todd Helton Drive and Chamique Holdsclaw Drive, as well as along West Volunteer Blvd.

Parking for MVP ticket holders is located in Lots GF1 and GF2.

Handicap parking is located in marked handicap spaces on Pat Head Summitt Street and in the G16 garage.

Beer Sales Policy
New this season, beer will be sold at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Protocol for beer sales will be consistent with all other on-campus venues that have sold alcohol this season.

For more information, click HERE.

Clear Bag Policy
In an effort to enhance safety and expedite fan entry at Tennessee athletic events, UT has implemented a clear bag policy at Lindsey Nelson Stadium and all other athletic facilities. Only one clear bag no larger than 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches (gallon size) per person is permitted. Fans are also allowed a small clutch purse not exceeding 4.5 inches by 6.5 inches. Gates will open until 90 minutes prior to game time.

 

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