KNOXVILLE — Will Heflin has been on a University of Tennessee baseball team that started the season hot before.
Only this time around, the junior pitcher believes the finish will be a lot different.
The 2017 Volunteers started 12-2 and were ranked 24th in the country after a lopsided 18-4 win over Austin Peay, just before Southeastern Conference play began. Tennessee struggled from that point, going 7-21 in the league and missing the conference tournament.
This year's Vols are 17-1 and 21st in the country after a 7-2 win over UNC Asheville on Wednesday, and they start conference play Friday night at 17th-ranked Auburn (15-2). Tennessee has been led by a pitching staff that ranks sixth in the country in team ERA at 2.19, two spots behind the Tigers (2.14 ERA).
The Vols' three projected starters for the series against the Tigers, which is set to continue Saturday and finish Sunday — Garrett Stallings, Zach Linginfelter and Will Neely — are a combined 10-1 this year.
So how is this Tennessee team different from the 2017 edition?
"You can kind of tell based on how things look against the competition," Heflin said after striking out eight batters Wednesday. "We'll be ready. I'm not sure how good we'll do, I don't want to put a bet on anything, but I'm sure we'll compete and be ready to go.
"We've got the talent to be a mainstay in the SEC this year, and it's going to be fun to get out there."
The fifth-ranked Lady Vols softball team is hosting the Tennessee Invitational, which continues through this weekend at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.
Tennessee (20-3) already has one win in the event, having defeated BYU 14-2 on Thursday. Two former Chattanooga-area high school standouts who are now Lady Vols freshman were part of the victory, with former Meigs County pitcher Ashley Rogers starting and working two innings and Silverdale Baptist Academy graduate Kaili Phillips hitting a three-run homer and scoring twice after reaching on errors.
The Lady Vols will face Texas on Friday and Sunday, and they will play BYU again on Saturday.
Tennessee, which won two out of three at fourth-ranked Florida last weekend, returns to SEC play March 22 against visiting Arkansas.