There's no better salesman for Tennessee than its baseball coach, Tony Vitello, and he masterfully gave a nod to the school's greatest sports star while summing up what the Volunteers accomplished minutes earlier Sunday.
“We’ve got Peyton Manning saying ‘Omaha’ again,” Vitello said.
Indeed, the Volunteers are heading back to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, for the first time since 2005 after sweeping their NCAA super regional with a 15-6 win over LSU in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Vitello has established a strong bond with fans since he was hired four years ago, and the excitement level around his program is unprecedented. Fans who weren't among the 4,400 inside Lindsay Nelson Stadium this weekend were invited to a watch party outside the fence.
“I wanted to get this thing to where people were proud of it,” Vitello said. “The crowd here and the people on the street speaks volumes to where it's at.”
Tennessee's CWS opener will be against the winner of the super regional between Virginia and Dallas Baptist. Virginia won 4-0 Sunday to force a deciding third game Monday.
“People that have to do this for a living, you would never say we’re going to go to Omaha or let's just get to Omaha,” Vitello said. “It's a grind to get there, so you focus on the grind. But now that we have punched our ticket, Vol Nation has been a big part of us getting there. I hope people can make the trip. It’s a fun, fun deal. And they do it up right up there.”
After hitting no home runs in its 4-2 win Saturday, Tennessee continued its late-season power surge. Jake Rucker went deep twice, and the Vols matched their season high with six homers, increasing their NCAA Tournament total to 16 in five games.
Vanderbilt and Stanford were the first teams to claim spots in the CWS, closing out super regional sweeps Saturday.
The SEC went into Sunday with the possibility of having a record five teams reach the eight-team CWS.
Vanderbilt and Tennessee are in, and Arkansas, Mississippi and Mississippi State were playing Sunday night with opportunities to close out their super regionals.
In the other day game, Virginia's Griff McGarry struck out 10 in seven innings and combined with Brandon Neeck and Kyle Whitten on the four-hit shutout
The Cavaliers (34-25) scored all their runs in the eighth inning against the Patriots (41-17), with Zack Gelof leading off with a homer and Alex Tappen hitting a three-run homer.
More NCAA baseball tournament coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/college-world-series