KNOXVILLE — A pair of losses to low-major Wright State during the final weekend of Tennessee baseball’s non-conference schedule slowed what was a blistering start to a potentially historic season.
While disappointed, some in the Vols’ dugout viewed it as an opportunity to refocus before opening SEC play. Nobody was concerned. Everybody knew what was coming.
Junior ace and projected first-round pick Garrett Crochet was working his way back from injury, as was sophomore right-hander Camden Sewell. The duo would bolster a pitching staff that already ranked fourth in the nation in ERA (2.00) and further complement a lineup that ranked first in runs (180) and second in home runs (31).
A second straight NCAA Regional appearance seemed definite, and a run to the College World Series for the first time since 2005 was a possibility, but Tennessee never played another game.
The coronavirus pandemic suspended the season a couple of days before the Vols were scheduled to play the first of three games against South Carolina, and the season eventually was cancelled altogether.
“It was definitely tough knowing how good we were going to be and how far we were going to make it,” redshirt junior left-handed pitcher Redmond Walsh told The Daily Times.
And yet, there was no hint of disappointment in the Alcoa alum’s voice as he discussed the missed opportunity, just excitement for whatever is on deck for college baseball.
That is the confidence that radiates through this up-and-coming program, and given a shortened MLB Draft and eligibility relief for spring student-athletes being approved by the NCAA on March 30, the Vols may be able to run it back with the infusion of the No. 25 recruiting class (Perfect Game) in the nation.
“We have definitely talked who could be where and who could come back to help us, but I think everybody knows that people will have to make some big decisions,” Walsh said. “We want the best for each individual person, whether that be for them to come back and help us or go on to the next level and start their dream of playing minor league baseball and hopefully someday major league baseball.”
As those decisions are being mulled over, Walsh is hard at work gearing up for whatever his baseball future entails.
The National College Baseball Writers Association Preseason Second Team All-American bought a squat rack and other equipment when he realized things were about to be shut down so that he could keep up with Director of Sports Performance Quentin Eberhardt’s workout program. However, that is the only sense of normalcy Walsh has because for the first time in a while, he is not spending the month of May throwing baseballs on a daily basis.
“I was throwing for a while hoping we’d get a couple games in the season, summer ball or even the chance to come back and be with each other,” Walsh said. “Right now, I’m throwing once or twice a week to keep my arm moving, but I’m kind of resting it up to give it a break for whatever comes after this.”
If that means one final go-around with Tennessee, the trustworthy left arm that has posted a 1.32 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with 11 saves over the past three seasons will be ready.
Four years ago, Walsh and several of his then-freshmen teammates sat in a dorm and discussed changing the culture of the program and taking it to new heights.
The Vols got a taste of what that could be like this season, and they are hoping they can experience the CWS in Omaha, Nebraska, a year from now.
“For all of us who have been here for a while and contributed a lot to the program, it shows that all the hard work and everything we have done has paid off,” Walsh said. “And it hasn’t been just us. It’s been underclassmen who want to learn how to compete and a coaching staff that has been there for us every single day and will do whatever it takes (to be successful).”