May 22, 2007
Three series wins over its final four weekends of league play proved to be just the ticket for Tennessee's return to the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament, beginning Wednesday in Hoover, Ala. The Vols open against top-seeded and nationally No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt in a 5 p.m. Central time start at Regions Park (10,800).
UT stood just 6-10 in the April 23 SEC standings after dropping a trio of games at Vanderbilt by a combined margin of four runs. But series victories at LSU and Florida sandwiched around a home triumph over Mississippi boosted Tennessee to its 12th all-time league tourney appearance and ninth under head coach Rod Delmonico.
All four of Wednesday's opening-day games are intra-division affairs, with Alabama-Arkansas, Florida-South Carolina and Ole Miss-Mississippi State joining the Volunteer State matchup. Vandy won the SEC East title and its first overall conference crown in 27 years, while Arkansas claimed the Western Division flag.
James Adkins gets the opening mound assignment for Tennessee (33-23, 13-15 SEC). The Mount Juliet southpaw sports a 6-7 record and 3.01 ERA and was a tough-luck loser to the Commondores back on April 20. Adkins fanned nine that night over eight innings, allowing just six hits and walking two. But the team's 3-1 loss was one of six for Adkins this season in which his teammates supplied three runs or fewer of offensive support.
Those bats have come alive of late, however, with the Vols on a current streak of five straight games of double-figure hits and a team batting average of .342 during May.
The Vols are batting an even .300 for the season, led individually by outfielders Julio Borbon at .346 and Andy Simunic at .340. Other regulars above the team average are J.P. Arencibia (.330), Tony Delmonico (.323), Yan Gomes (.318) and Jeff Lockwood (.306). Arencibia and Gomes share the home run lead with eight, just ahead of Delmonico's seven, while Gomes and Delmonico are the RBI pace-setters at 45 apiece.
Coach Delmonico announced Craig Cobb (8-5, 5.67 ERA) as Tennessee's Thursday starter no matter the outcome on Wednesday. Cobb pitched 61/3 innings of the clinching win Saturday at Florida and owns 27 career victories in a Big Orange uniform -- second on the UT charts.
Top Tennessee bullpen arms to watch include Lockwood (3.06 ERA, eight saves) and Aaron Everett (2.61 ERA). Lockwood was named SEC Freshman of the Week after saving both wins at Florida, while Everett sports an 0.79 ERA over his last five appearances covering 111/3 innings.
Vanderbilt has named Brett Jacobson (5-1, 3.12 ERA) as its Wednesday starter.