PREVIEW: #16 Vols Open Highly Anticipated 2021 Season at Georgia Southern

STATESBORO, Ga. – The highly-anticipated 2021 season for the 16th ranked Tennessee Volunteers baseball team has finally arrived. The Big Orange travel south to take on the Georgia Southern Eagles this weekend to open the 2021 campaign.

Vols 1B Luc Lipcius / Credit: UT Athletics

Friday’s season opener will mark the first game for UT since March 10, 2020 – a span of 346 days – after the 2020 season was halted and eventually canceled entirely due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

BROADCAST INFO

This weekend’s entire series will be streamed on ESPN+, which requires a subscription (purchase HERE). Danny Waugh (PxP) and Chase Martaus (color) will have the call for all three contests.

Fans can also listen to the games on UTSports.com and the UT Gameday app, as John Wilkerson calls the action.

PROJECTED STARTING PITCHERS

Game 1: RHP Chad Dallas vs. RHP Jordan Jackson
Game 2: RHP Blade Tidwell vs. RHP Chase Dollander
Game 3: TBD vs. LHP Braden Hays

SERIES HISTORY

Overall: UT leads, 4-3
In Knoxville: GSU leads, 1-0
In Statesboro: Series tied, 2-2
Neutral Sites: UT leads, 2-0
Last Meeting: W, 6-1 (May 25, 1996) – NCAA Clemson Regional

The Vols and Eagles have met seven times on the diamond but haven’t faced off since a 6-1 Tennessee victory in the 1996 NCAA Clemson Regional. This weekend will be the Vols’ third trip to Statesboro in program history. UT split a pair of two-game series in Statesboro back in 1966 and 1971.

NOTABLE

Tennessee in Season Openers
The Vols will look to earn their third straight season-opening win when they square off against the Eagles on Friday. UT is 73-35-2 all-time in season openers and 2-1 under Tony Vitello. UT has also had great success historically when opening the season with a series against a single opponent. The Vols have won 21 of the 30 season-opening series in program history (does not include tournaments or two-game series).

All-American Vols
Tennessee enters the year with five preseason All-Americans, marking the second straight season that the Vols have had multiple players earn preseason All-America honors. Junior INF Max Ferguson leads the way with three preseason All-America nods, including first-team honors from Baseball America and D1Baseball.com. Ferguson was also named to the preseason All-SEC second team.

Fellow juniors Jake Rucker (INF) and Connor Pavolony (C), as well as senior Jackson Leath (RHP) and sophomore Drew Gilbert (OF/LHP), also garnered preseason All-America accolades.

Vols in the Polls
Tennessee enters the 2021 season ranked in the Top 25 nationally in four of the six major polls. This year marks the first time that the Vols have been ranked in the preseason Top 25 since 2007, when UT was ranked as high as No. 11 to begin the season.

The Big Orange climbed as high as No. 11 in the USA Today Top 25 last season after starting the year 13-0. That marked the program’s highest ranking in any poll since coming in at No. 11 in the Baseball America 2007 preseason rankings.

2021 Preseason Top 25 Rankings
USA Today                       #16
Baseball America            #19
D1Baseball.com               #19
NCBWA                            #20

Undefeated in February
UT has been quite literally unbeatable in the month of February over the last two years, posting a 20-0 record since the start of the 2019 season. In those 20 victories, the Vols have outscored their opponents by a 174-24 margin.

Tennessee went 11-0 in February in 2020 and outscored its opponents 115-20 in those games. The Vols’ last loss in the month of February came on Feb. 25, 2018 versus UNC Greensboro.

Vols Ranked Among National Leaders in 2020
When the 2020 season came to an abrupt end, UT ranked among the nation’s leaders in a handful of statistical categories. The Vols rank among the top 25 in the country in each of the following categories last season:

Offense

  • Batting Average: .320 (5th)
  • Doubles: 43 (6th)
  • Hits: 193 (3rd)
  • Home Runs: 31 (2nd)
  • On-Base Percentage: .442 (2nd)
  • Runs: 180 (1st)
  • Runs/Game: 10.6 (1st)
  • Slugging Percentage: .556 (2nd)
  • Walks: 124 (2nd)

Pitching/Defense

  • ERA: 2.00 (4th)
  • Fielding Percentage: .981 (18th)
  • Hits Allowed/Nine Innings: 6.41 (17th)
  • Shutouts: 3 (11th)
  • Strikeout-to-Walk Ratio: 4.89 (3rd)
  • WHIP: 0.94 (2nd)
  • Walks Allowed/Nine Innings: 2.06 (3rd)

OPPONENT SCOUT

Georgia Southern Eagles

  • 2020 Record: 11-5 (0-0 Sun Belt)
  • 2020 Postseason: N/A
  • Head Coach: Rodney Hennon (22nd season) // Guided the Eagles to six NCAA Regionals and has led the program to 11 regular season or tournament conference titles including the 2019 Sun Belt Championship.
  • The Eagles enter the 2021 season on a seven-game win streak that featured three wins over Georgia.
  • Georgia Southern was picked to finish third in the eastern division of the 2021 Sun Belt Preseason Poll.
  • Senior RHP Jordan Jackson was named to the Preseason All-Sun Belt Team.
  • GSU returns every pitcher that recorded a win for them last season.

ON DECK

The Vols will open their 2021 home slate with a pair of midweek games against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Feb. 23 and Feb. 24. First pitch for both games against the Lions is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET. Both contests will be streamed on WatchESPN.com and the ESPN app.

-UT Athletics

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