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Tennessee infielder Maui Ahuna (2) throws to first after tagging out Southern Mississippi's Nick Monistere, left, in the sixth inning of an NCAA college baseball tournament super regional game, Sunday, June 11, 2023, in Hattiesburg, Miss. The game was a continuation of Saturday's play which was suspended due to weather concerns. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Tennessee Looks to Join LSU and Florida in Omaha

The road to Omaha, Nebraska, can be described as many things. Intense, exciting, unreal and everything in between. However, for the Southeastern Conference this year, it’s best described in one phrase: “welcome back.”

Dominance in the South

The Florida Gators and the Louisiana State Tigers advanced to the College Baseball World Series over the weekend. Both SEC teams swept their opponents in their respected best-out-of-three Super Regionals. They eliminated fellow conference members South Carolina and Kentucky, in the process.

LSU showed dominance against the Wildcats in its batting throughout its Super Regional in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Tigers produced 22 runs compared to Kentucky’s three — which were all scored in game two of the series.

The Tigers’ defense from all across the diamond was locked in. This included stellar performances from junior infielder Jordan Thompson and the bullpen of LSU that allowed only 14 hits in the series.

The Gators went another route in their Super Regionals compared to Louisiana State. UF’s pitching staff was the deciding factor in its series against the Gamecocks — pitching lights-out in the clinching game Saturday to hold South Carolina scoreless and to a 4-0 loss against Florida to end its season.

Gators junior pitcher Hurston Waldrep took charge in that game with 117 pitches through eight innings. The righty only allowed three hits to get past the Gamecocks

“I could have stayed out there and pitched a hundred more pitches off the adrenalin of the moment,” Waldrep said.

Waiting on Tennessee

All the Super Regionals finished Sunday except for the Hattiesburg Super Regional between the Southern Miss Golden Eagles and the Tennessee Volunteers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and the Stanford Super Regional. Both series are tied at one a piece with both squads fighting in close battles.

The first game of the Hattiesburg Super Regionals featured a Southern Miss explosion off a triple from junior outfielder Tate Parker that scored two runs in the opening frame. Tennessee allowed two more Eagle runs before they found any answers against Southern Miss junior pitcher Billy Oldham.

The Volunteers got on the scoreboard after a lengthy lightning delay that pushed the game to the next day. In the top of the fifth inning, due to a bases-loaded situation, Tennessee took advantage and collected three runs on its way out of the inning. However, that was all they got for offense in the game toward a 5-3 loss against the Eagles.

Rocky top comeback

Game two almost appeared identical to the first game of the series. In the bottom of the third inning, a single through the right side scored junior outfielder Matthew Etzel for the first run of the game for Southern Miss. Senior utility player Christopher Sargent followed the run with a three-run home run that blasted past the left-center field wall to push the Eagles lead to 4-0 out of the inning.

Unlike the first game of the series, Tennessee answered back the very next inning. Volunteers graduate student outfielder Griffin Merritt singled to score sophomore infielder Christian Moore. Then, a home run by sophomore first baseman Blake Burke brought Merritt home. A single to center field by redshirt sophomore outfielder Jared Dickey finished the comeback as an error in the outfield gave time for two runners to score and get Dickey safe at second.

Tennessee took a 6-4 lead after the fourth and its fielding kept Southern Miss out of reach. Specifically, the team wrapped around junior catcher Cal Stark’s leadership throughout the game.

“There was a lot of fight with the whole group and Cal Stark was kind of our leader,” head coach Tony Vitello said in the post game press conference.

The Knoxville, Tennessee, native and the Volunteers tacked on four more runs and finished the game with a double play to defeat the Eagles 8-4.

“It’s a big time win for us,” Dickey said.

Tennessee and Southern Miss will now face each other one more time in Hattiesburg Monday at 6 p.m. for a winner-take-all contest to see who will advance to Omaha.

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