If all goes to Tony Vitello's plan at this week's Southeastern Conference baseball tournament, Blade Tidwell, Chase Dollander, Chase Burns and Drew Beam each will throw gems and Tennessee will be celebrating Sunday afternoon.
It's been a wealth of riches on the mound this spring for the top-ranked Volunteers, as that quartet has amassed a combined 25-3 record with none having an earned run average higher than 2.75. Dollander, Burns and Beam ranked 1-2-3 among SEC pitchers in ERA during the regular season, while Tidwell didn't have enough innings to qualify after missing the first half of the season with shoulder soreness.
Vitello said Tuesday that Tidwell will likely start Tennessee's tournament opener on Wednesday, with Dollander, named this week as the SEC pitcher of the year, going Thursday.
"We've kind of set all those guys up for a playoff mode, and you've got to keep some kind of throwing program or schedule, but you've also got to be ready at the drop of a hat," Vitello said. "Rain is going to interfere, or at least lightning will, at some point with the schedule, so at playoff time you've always got to be on your toes. In a perfect world, we would keep things in sync with what we had going on at Mississippi State, which was Dollander, Burns and then Beam.
"I would like to get all four in a game, so a lot of that will be dictated by how game one goes and then game game two and so forth."
Weather wreaked havoc with Tuesday's start to the six-day event in Hoover, Alabama, as Alabama's 5-3 opening win over Georgia was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Eastern but took six hours to complete due to delays. The start of the second game between Florida and South Carolina was then delayed three hours, which caused the league to move the last contest between Auburn and Kentucky to Wednesday.
As great as Tennessee has been as a staff, it's Dollander who has emerged as the best of the bunch with an 8-0 record and a 2.30 ERA despite a 17-day absence that transpired after getting hit in the arm by a line drive against Alabama on April 16. In last Thursday night's 27-2 dismantling of Mississippi State in Starkville, the 6-foot-3, 192-pound sophomore from Evans, Georgia, retired 18 of the 19 batters he faced.
"I think he is one of our most improved players within the season," Vitello said. "He just had an interruption there missing two weeks and having no activity. That gave him a fresh arm and the mental lessons learned, so I think it turned out to be a good combination for him."
When asked last Thursday about his first SEC tournament, Dollander said, "I feel great, and I'm excited to see what happens. I know these guys are ready for it."
Dollander was pitching for Georgia Southern this time last year, when he went 4-3 with a 4.04 ERA. He had 64 strikeouts and 28 walks with the Eagles but has flourished this season by racking up 90 strikeouts and only nine walks.
Similar to Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker last fall, Dollander defines a successful journey through the transfer portal.
"If you're going to move on, a lot of these guys think the grass is automatically going to be greener, and it's not necessarily like that," Vitello said, "but it's nice to see when a kid finds his true home and where it works out best for him."
Vitello's Vols were going to have to wait late Tuesday night before learning Wednesday's foe, which was the winner of the Vanderbilt-Ole Miss game. Tennessee collected road sweeps of the Commodores and Rebels early in its league season, which ultimately helped catapult the Vols to a 49-7 overall record and 25-5 league run.
Tennessee has never won an SEC tournament involving teams from both divisions, but Vitello is entering this year's event with broader objectives.
"In my mind, it's play good baseball, and I know those are three very boring words," Vitello said. "Postseason experience for our younger guys would be second on that list, because it's just different. It's different to experience this SEC tournament, and it is like a playoff vibe for a regional or anything that would follow.
"Third would be just to continue the preparation part of things. This has been a loose and fun group to be around, but at the same time, they take care of their work each day."
Holstein picks Tide
Alabama picked up a big-time commitment Tuesday from a Louisiana quarterback not named Manning.
Eli Holstein, a 6-4, 222-pounder from Zachary, revealed his intentions on Twitter by posting, "As my Pawpaw used to say, Roll Damn Tide!!!"
Holstein, the No. 8 quarterback and No. 54 national prospect on the 247Sports.com composite rankings, committed to Texas A&M last June before decommitting from the Aggies in March.
Arch Manning of New Orleans, the nephew of Peyton and Eli Manning, is the top overall prospect in the 2023 signing cycle but has yet to reveal his destination.
Robinson to Jaguars
Former Tennessee offensive lineman James Robinson has decided on South Alabama as his new locale.
The 6-4, 335-pounder from Montgomery, Alabama, played in just one game last season as a redshirt sophomore, with that being the opening win over Bowling Green.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org.