No. 1 Tennessee stands between Notre Dame and the CWS. Here are five things about the Vols
Notre Dame baseball has climbed many a mountain during its magical run the last two seasons under head coach Link Jarrett.
There have been big regular seasons (the Irish ran away with the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2021 by a record 4.5 games) and regular-season wins (a first-ever sweep this spring at Florida State). Last weekend, Notre Dame (38-14) won an NCAA tournament regional for a second straight season, something the program never before had done.
► Noie:From disappointed to dominant
► Noie:Irish grind out regional win
Now along comes the biggest of challenges. Huge. Some even would say a bit overwhelming. A sweep through the Statesboro, Georgia regional sends Notre Dame this weekend to Knoxville, Tennessee, where the No. 1 overall seed Volunteers await.
Here are five facts about Tennessee baseball heading into the best-of-three series that starts Friday at 6 p.m. (ESPN2).
The numbers are simply staggering
Let’s start with the overall record of 56-7. Tennessee has won more games (a school record) than Notre Dame has played (52). That’s what happens when you reside down South and you can start your season at home Feb. 18 as the Volunteers did. The Irish didn’t play a home game until the middle of March.
The first two months, while the Irish often were on the road or home and battling to get outdoors if even for a few hours, the Volunteers were going 24-1. That this one is a non-league contest is of little consolation. Tennessee is 31-2 outside of Southeastern Conference play. It beats up league pitching. It beats up non-league pitching. It posts numbers at an insane rate.
Tennessee currently ranks first in the country in won/loss percentage (.889), slugging percentage (.607), runs (592), walks (371) and home runs (150). It ranks second in the nation in shutouts (nine), fourth in scoring (9.4 runs per game) and on-base percentage (.421), eighth in hits (678) and a rather pedestrian (for this program) 10th in triples (23). All those numbers, from walks to triples to shutouts, were tops in the SEC, where the Volunteers finished 25-5.
Against teams in the NCAA field, Tennessee is 23-3. That’s pretty good.
Tennessee entered June ranked first, second or third nationally in 11 different categories. It pitches. It fields. It hits. It wins.
It's one loaded lineup
Tennessee gets contributions from everyone – 1-8 – in its everyday lineup. Everyone.
Of the Volunteers’ main eight, all have started at least 43 games. Six have started at least 55. Of those top eight, every player has at least 52 hits, has scored at least 52 runs and has at least a .512 slugging percentage. Six have at least 44 RBI while seven have hit at least 11 home runs.
Where’s the easy out? Hint: there are none. Tennessee has tallied many a lopsided win this season with scores of 14-0, 16-1, 27-1 and 29-0 (sorry about those last two, Iona). Nine players have at least nine home runs – no other team in the country can say the same.
Tennessee also can pitch. The staff is spearheaded by three regulars who’ve also piled up some serious stats. Its top three — Chase Dollander, Chase Burns and Drew Beam — are a combined 25-2 in 41 starts. Each has thrown at least 72 innings and has at least eight wins. Dollander leads with nine. The Volunteers have won at least 10 games each time one of the main three is on the mound. All three — all underclassmen — were invited this week to be part of the USA Collegiate Baseball team this summer.
There are seven potential picks in next month’s Major League Baseball draft on the Tennessee roster. An SEC team that can play literally year-round likely gets a lot of talent close to home, and Tennessee is no exception. While the bulk of its roster is from Tennessee and additional points south, the Volunteers also go national. There are players who hail from California, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Virginia. That’s the mark of a true program.
Tennessee is that, and a whole lot more.
Streaking is common
Not in the way Frank the Tank rolled through town sans clothes after a night of reliving his younger days and ways in “Old School,” but the way good teams get on good runs and stay on runs to play great at the right/needed times.
Tennessee opened the season by winning eight straight. Its first win/game was against fellow NCAA tournament team Georgia Southern, which it blanked 8-0. The Volunteers burst through the regular season with win streaks of eight, 23 and eight straight.
Only once has it lost two in a row — April 12 and April 15 to Tennessee Tech and Alabama. Since its last loss, to Auburn way back on April 30, Tennessee has won 11 in a row. That includes last weekend’s regional sweep (3-0), which featured two wins where the Volunteers trailed by at least four runs.
Oh, and after eight innings, Tennessee is a combined 50-1.
The Volunteers just don’t lose at Lindsey Nelson Stadium (yes, that Lindsey Nelson). Tennessee has played 40 home games heading into super regionals. It has 37 wins. Speaking of home, this weekend marks the fourth time in school history, and second straight season, that the Volunteers have hosted a super regional. They’re 6-0 all-time, which means, sweep, sweep, sweep.
That sort of serious streaking would even make Frank the Tank jealous.
How about a Notre Dame connection?
Tennessee athletic director is former Notre Dame men’s basketball walk-on guard Danny White, a 2002 graduate who is now known as Dr. Daniel J. White after earning his doctorate in higher education from Mississippi in 2016.
White scored three total points in four minutes over four games on the 2001-02 Irish team. He’s the son of former Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White, who served that role for nine years (2000-08) before leaving for Duke.
The younger White is following in his father’s administrative footsteps. After associate/assistant athletic director stops at Northern Illinois, Fresno State and Ole Miss, he’s been an athletic director at Buffalo, Central Florida and at Tennessee since 2021.
It might not be long before Notre Dame is in the market for an athletic director (current AD Jack Swarbrick’s contract runs through 2024-25). The 33-year-old White might be someone to watch.
Tucked deep inside the Tennessee game notes — no, really, it’s there — is a list of all the walk-up songs that each player likes to hear over the public address system when they’re at home.
It’s a wide variety of artists. It includes everyone Big & Rich to Jay-Z, Misos to Moneybagg Yo, Outkast to Eminem (guess who’s back?)
Beam prefers The Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin (he’s way too young to remember laughter) while Wyatt Evans wants “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica. No Enter Sandman?
Then there’s right fielder Jordan Beck, who has three walk-up songs, depending on the day of a UT home game. On Fridays, it’s “Birds Fly High” by the Doughboys. Saturdays are reserved for “The Circle of Life” (Lion King) while Sundays are set aside for Justin Moore’s “Small Town USA.”
Will this series get to Sunday? We’ll see.
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.
NCAA Knoxville Super Regional
All times EDT
Friday: 6 p.m., ESPN2
Saturday: 2 p.m., ESPN
Sunday (if necessary): TBD, TBD