Tennessee traveling to Houston for biggest test of the season
Tennessee’s undefeated record will be on the line this weekend in Houston. The Vols face three Big 12 opponents starting with No. 1 Texas on Friday at Minute Maid Park.
Tennessee hits the road for the first time in 2022 this weekend. The No. 17 Vols (8-0) will be put to the test as they face No. 1 Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma in the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Thus far, it has been smooth sailing for the most part through Tennessee’s first eight games. The closest margin of victory came on Tuesday in a 4-1 win over in-state opponent ETSU.
There should be more trial and tribulation for the Vols this weekend as they face off against three Big 12 teams. They will be thrown right into the fire on Friday. The first game of the weekend is against top-ranked Texas.
However, the Vols are ready and excited for the challenge. They have a chance to really find out what kind of team they are early in the year.
“Really for us, it’s about getting a taste of a multi-team environment. It kind of has the regional type feel,” coach Tony Vitello said. “And you get to size yourself up, how you are against these other high quality teams.”
Texas was ranked first in the preseason and has not budged since. The Longhorns sit at 9-0 and are coming off a sweep of Alabama at home last weekend. They boast a commanding pitching staff. Their pitchers only allowed one run in three games against Alabama, and have a collective ERA of 0.67 with a .165 batting average against.
Headlining Texas’ pitching staff is Pete Hansen, a sophomore lefty that has struck out 16 and given up no runs in two starts this year. Hansen was voted Big 12 preseason pitcher of the year and a Perfect Game second team preseason All-American. His fastball sits at 90-92 mph, but it is the pinpoint command that makes him so dominant.
“Our offense is fully capable,” Vitello said of facing Hansen. “But that can go up and down, so you gotta have different ways to win.”
Vols’ players are looking forward to playing a higher level of competition. They also want to show what they can do on a national stage, playing some of the best competition in the country at a Major League ballpark.
“I live for this,” junior outfielder Jordan Beck said. “This is exactly what I want to do, this is where I want to be and I’m playing in a park that hopefully I’ll play in one day.”
Tennessee will roll out three underclassmen starting pitchers over the weekend. Freshman Chase Burns has started Fridays this year, sophomore Chase Dollander has started Saturdays and freshman Drew Beam on Sundays. They have combined to go 6-0 with a 0.90 ERA.
The offenses they face in Houston this weekend will be stronger than what they have seen so far. Pitching in an MLB stadium can raise the nerves, but Vitello wants them to make the most of it.
“I think a big thing is they need to enjoy it,” Vitello said. “(Frank) Anderson’s got those guys in the bullpen, and he’s got full autonomy as it relates to coaching those guys. I think he’s got a really good feel of when it’s time to crack a joke, or when it’s time to calm a guy down…I fully trust he’ll have those guys ready and I’ll say my piece if I see something.”
Baylor is at 4-4 on the season, and Oklahoma is 5-2. Baylor was swept by Maryland during opening weekend, but is 4-1 since. Oklahoma has won four of its last five, limiting opponents to 1.8 runs per game in that span.
Tennessee’s first game of the Shriner Hospitals for Children Classic is Friday at 8 p.m. EST. They play Saturday at 4 p.m. EST and Sunday at 12 p.m. EST.