Tennessee baseball coach Tony Vitello was asked this past week about the lofty standing of his Volunteers, who were tied with Vanderbilt atop the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division standings with three regular-season league series remaining.
"It's a step-by-step deal," Vitello said on a Zoom call. "If we're in 'Shawshank Redemption,' we're nowhere near the end of the tunnel yet. We're kind of in the middle somewhere with the lightning going off."
Sunday's combination of Blade Tidwell and some lightning in Nashville has the Vols atop the East, with Tidwell's seven strong innings powering Tennessee to a 10-2 whipping of Missouri that completed a sweep of the Tigers in Columbia. Vanderbilt's hopes of keeping pace were ruined by a rainout of its series finale against visiting Alabama, so the No. 5 Vols are 17-7 in SEC play and the No. 2 Commodores are 16-7 with two series remaining for each.
The Commodores are the only league team to defeat the Vols in a series this season.
Tidwell allowed just two hits and a run while striking out five batters as Tennessee improved to 37-11 overall. The Vols outscored the Tigers 26-10 during the sweep, with Drew Gilbert's 4-for-5 showing at the plate heading Sunday's outburst.
"Our hitters were a pain in their butt this weekend," Vitello said afterward on Zoom. "These are some really, really good arms that we saw this weekend, and we were a pain in the butt all weekend whether we were scoring or not."
Tennessee is scheduled to host Tennessee Tech on Tuesday before welcoming top-ranked Arkansas for a weekend series. The Razorbacks are 17-7 in league play and leading the SEC West.