March 22, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Rusty Ensor sees a lot of the past when he watches this year's Tennessee baseball team.
The former Vol slugger and current college baseball television analyst spoke at the first Tennessee Baseball Luncheon of the year on Thursday, telling a group of UT fans about the similarities he has noticed between Coach Serrano's current club and the 1982 squad led by former head coach John Whited, who passed away last week.
The captain of that 1982 team, Whited's first at the helm of the UT program after serving as an assistant under longtime head coach Bill Wright, Ensor spoke about the effect Whited had on both his life and the Tennessee baseball program.
"Coach Whited was a well-respected man around here and I think that 1982 year we had kind of propelled Tennessee baseball back to the forefront," Ensor said. "He immediately changed the mentality, much like Coach Serrano and his staff are doing right now with Tennessee baseball. It was a mentality that Coach Whited gave us about believing in ourselves and never giving up and that's so important."
Speaking to that never-say-die attitude and some of the other similarities he has noticed between the last team he played for at Rocky Top and this year's squad, Ensor recalled the 1982 team's run to the championship game of the SEC Tournament.
After dropping the opening game of the tournament, Ensor and the Vols found themselves facing elimination the next day, trailing Alabama, 6-4, in the bottom of the ninth inning.
"We had the bases loaded and an 0-2 count on a pinch hitter," Ensor said. "It was a freshman and he was kind of a contact guy who didn't play a whole lot named Tony Myers. In true Dave Serrano fashion, Coach Whited calls for a squeeze bunt on an 0-2 pitch. He gets it down and we win the game, 7-6, after scoring three in the bottom of the ninth. That was an incredible game."
Tennessee would go on to defeat Ole Miss and Florida the next day, scoring seven runs over the final two innings to down the Rebels, 12-11, and beating the Gators, 10-7, to reach the championship game.
Although the Vols would drop a rematch with Florida in the title contest, Ensor has nothing but positive memories from his final season wearing the Orange and White.
"It was a pretty heavily senior- laden team because we had a lot of JUCO transfers the year before, including myself, so we had a lot of good leadership," Ensor said. "We were all stars in our own right from our previous teams, but it was truly about the team when he took over that year. That was real important once we got into [SEC] tournament play because we didn't give up until the last out was made. [Coach Whited] will be a guy sorely missed and he was a guy that instilled a lot of the same values that Coach Serrano's doing right now with this program."
The next Tennessee Baseball Luncheon will be held at noon on Thursday, April 18, in the MVP Club Room at Lindsey Nelson Stadium with Dr. Jerry Punch as the guest speaker. Punch is an auto racing and college football analyst for CBS and ESPN. For tickets, call Rachel Miller in the UT marketing department at (865) 974-9001.