Knoxville, TN. (WATE) – It doesn’t get any easier for No. 18 Tennessee baseball this weekend. In their sixth SEC series of the year starting Friday, the Vols (31-11, 9-9 SEC) will face their fifth ranked opponent. This time, it’s No. 6 Arkansas (31-11, 12-6 SEC) in Fayetteville. The series is big enough on it’s face without any subplots, but they don’t get much jucier than head coach Tony Vitello making his return to northwest Arkansas for the first time since leaving the Razorbacks for Rocky Top in 2017.
Vitello spent four years at Arkansas under legendary coach Dave Van Horn as an assistant and recruiting coordinator.
“Mixed bag of emotions. It’s a place I really enjoyed. I wouldn’t have this job if it wasn’t for that place,” Vitello said Thursday before Tennessee left for Arkansas. “Basically I’m here because of Coach Van Horn and also the players were at Arkansas and some of them are still there. That’s a strange balance of being thankful and appreciative and also wanting to be competetive.”
His players understand it’s a big weekend for their head coach, but they’re keeping it business as usual in the clubhouse.
“Just another SEC series,” says junior Pete Derkay. “Get to play in front of a bunch of fans, it’s gonna be a lot of fun. Another great opponent, it’s a great challenge for us. If you try to make it more than you start playing out of our comfort zone. We know we’re a good thing, we’re just gonna do our thing.”
“He’s excited to go back and excited to be home but he knows he’s here,” adds sophomore closer Redmond Walsh. “His job is to go down there and beat them and take all three games.”
First pitch in game one Friday night is set for 7:30 PM.
Projected Starting Pitchers
Friday: LHP Garrett Crochet (3-2, 2.45 ERA) vs. RHP Isaiah Campbell (7-1, 2.44 ERA)
Saturday: RHP Garrett Stallings (7-2, 1.82 ERA) vs. LHP Patrick Wicklander (3-1, 4.28 ERA)
Sunday: RHP Zach Linginfelter (6-4, 3.91 ERA) vs. TBA