OMAHA, Neb. — There are three SEC teams in this year’s College World Series and while Vanderbilt and Mississippi State are pretty familiar with making the trip to Omaha, it’s been awhile for the Volunteers, who open play Sunday against Virginia.
This is UT’s first trip to the College World Series since 2005 and just the fifth in school history but the Vols revel in the fact they are the new kids in town.
While the teams on their side of the bracket have a history in Omaha including national championships for both UVA and Texas, Tennessee is excited for the chance to build their brand against some pretty storied programs.
“I think it’s awesome. I grew up watching Texas, Virginia and Mississippi State going to Omaha pretty consistently,” said Vols outfielder Evan Russell. “I think it’s pretty awesome to see that we’ve kind of slid in and made a mark this season, and we’re surrounded by teams that have been here consistently. So, I think we’re ready to take that challenge.”
“ They wanted to compete in the SEC, to find out what you can do against the best. And a lot of it, too, was coming to Tennessee and trying to revitalize the program,” said Vols coach Tony Vitello. “So those are both things that are great challenges. So I think it’s in their DNA to welcome a challenge.”
One of those teams pretty familiar with TD Ameritrade Park is Mississippi State.
Tanner Allen, rowdy Jordan and company are back in Omaha for a third straight time.
But not all of these Bulldogs have played in a College World Series so it’s up to guys like Allen, the SEC Player of the Year, to impart some wisdom on the newbies to Omaha before Sunday night’s opener against Texas.
“I tell them it’s the same game they’ve been playing since they were three or four years old. It’s just on a bigger stage,” said SEC Player of the Year Tanner Allen. “Everybody will have butterflies. I don’t care if you’ve been to Omaha 10 times. It’s going to be nerve racking at first, but once the first pitch is thrown or once you field the first ground ball, fly ball, or have your first at-bat, it’s going to be the same game you’ve been playing all year long.”
“I like our chances. We’ve had tough days and tough weekends and a tough tournament and our team has had to be really resilient. And I think that pays off,” said Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis.” “We’ve won a lot of — it’s amazing how many close games we’ve played, big walk-off hits we’ve had and that type of resiliency at the end of the year. I like our group. We’re tough. They have responded every time. And we’re excited to play.”
The College World Series begins play with a Saturday doubleheader which includes the third SEC team in the field–the Vanderbilt Commodores. Vandy opens against Arizona.