Stellar pitching catapulted Tennessee to last weekend's Southeastern Conference baseball tournament championship game.
Those arms will be needed Friday night when the third-seeded Volunteers (45-16) open NCAA tournament play against the big bats of Wright State (35-11) in the Knoxville Regional. The Vols and Raiders will need no introductions, with Wright State having taken two of three contests in Knoxville last season right before the outbreak of the coronavirus.
"We're playing really good baseball right now, and we're showing up on the field with a lot of confidence," Tennessee senior pitcher Sean Hundley said earlier this week on a Zoom call. "We don't quit. We're going to play a minimum of nine innings every time we play.
"We're excited to play these guys."
Tennessee played five games at the SEC tournament in Hoover, Alabama, and dominated the middle three by blanketing Mississippi State, Alabama and Florida by the combined score of 27-2 to reach the final against No. 1 Arkansas.
Wright State rolled through the Horizon League tournament, racking up three wins by the combined count of 40-10. The Raiders enter the NCAA field of 64 leading the nation in six offensive categories: batting average (.342), on-base percentage (.451), slugging percentage (.578), doubles per game (2.74), scoring (10.6 runs per game) and total runs (488).
Junior pitcher Chad Dallas, who is 10-1 with a 4.07 ERA through 14 starts, is the probable starter for Tennessee, with Jake Schrand (5-4, 4.15) likely for the Raiders.
Tennessee is making just its second NCAA tournament appearance and its first in Knoxville since 2005. The Vols traveled to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, two years ago with a 38-19 record that included a 14-16 mark in SEC play.
The Vols went 2-2 in that regional, splitting games with Liberty before ultimately losing to the host Tar Heels.
"It was unfamiliar to a lot of guys, and I think we tried to do a little too much," Vols senior left fielder Evan Russell said. "We came in and got punched in the mouth, and we didn't really respond the way that we should have. It helps that we're hosting this regional, and it helps that we have a lot of big wins under our belts.
"We're more prepared than last time."
Friday's opening game in the Knoxville Regional between Duke (32-20) and Liberty (39-14) starts at noon, with Tennessee-Wright State set for 6.