Why Tennessee baseball will — and won't — beat Notre Dame, reach College World Series

Mike Wilson
Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee baseball is hosting Notre Dame with a spot in the College World Series on the line.

The No. 1 Vols (56-7) face the Fighting Irish (38-14) in the Knoxville Super Regional starting Friday (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2) at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. UT has to win two games in the best-of-three series against Notre Dame (38-14) to reach Omaha.

Tennessee has never reached the College World Series in back-to-back seasons.

Why Tennessee will reach the College World Series

Tennessee has been the best team in college baseball throughout the season and has held the No. 1 spot since early April. Nothing changed about that in the regional. If anything, UT reinforced why it is a dangerous team.

The Vols fell behind in their final two games but got elite middle relief work from Kirby Connell and Will Mabrey. The pitching bridged the gap until the offense broke through, which it did in late-game situations.

UT got an ace-level performance from Blade Tidwell. It didn't really scratch the surface on its pitching depth thanks to Connell and Mabrey. But that pitching is a significant edge over the Fighting Irish offense and will lead the Vols to the College World Series again.

Why Tennessee won't reach the College World Series

Tennessee struggled, at times, against Campbell and Georgia Tech's starting pitchers with top-tier talent. Notre Dame has a pair of potent pitchers in John Bertrand (9-2, 2.27 ERA) and Austin Temple (4-1, 3.46) who could give the Vols problems.

Bertrand was spectacular in the regional-clinching game against Texas Tech, allowing one run in 7⅔ innings.

Notre Dame could quell Tennessee's hot offense in a manner similar to Campbell's Cade Keuhler and Georgia Tech's Zach Maxwell. The Fighting Irish will make or break on the mound with a low-scoring offense that totaled 11 runs in three games in the Statesboro Regional.

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.