Photo: Will Heflin, pitcher from Morristown, TN
Photo Credit: Will Heflin
Published June 11, 2021
By Makenzie Jones [contributor to The Tennessee Conservative] –
As the overall number three seed in the 64-team NCAA tournament, the Vols will face LSU in the Knoxville Super Regional on Saturday, June 12, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Game two will be Sunday at noon or 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2 or ESPNU, and game three, if necessary, will be Monday at 4 p.m. or 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 or ESPNU.
This season, though falling to Arkansas in the SEC championship game, the Vols won the SEC East for the first time since 1997 and had the most SEC victories (20) for the program since 1995. The 1995 team was the last time that UT advanced past an NCAA regional; this team also went to Omaha and the College World Series.
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The Knoxville regional was hosted at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, now where, for the first time in program history, the Vols will play in a Super Regional game at home. Head coach Tony Vitello shared in a Twitter video that they look forward to having a full stadium and a loud, rowdy crowd for the games this weekend. “Tony V” jumped right into the dog pile in right field after Sunday’s win, then went into the stands with the fans.
The Vols’ path in the Knoxville Regional was full of top national talent, including Wright State, Duke, and Liberty. In a sold-out game against Wright State at Lindsey Nelson, the Vols were down 8-5 going into the final inning, Drew Gilbert hit a walk-off home run with bases loaded to send them to the next game, where they defeated Liberty 9-3. The two faced off again on Sunday, after Liberty defeated Duke, and the Vols won, sending them to the Super Regional.
In Sunday’s game, left-handed pitcher Will Heflin, a senior from Morristown, TN and Morristown West High School, set the team up strong, allowing only four hits in 5.1 innings, pitching eight strikeouts before Sean Hunley closed out the game. The crowd gave Heflin a standing ovation, but he acknowledged that the season is far from over.
Like many other athletes, COVID-19 abbreviated or altogether cancelled their seasons, putting many seniors out of their last year of competition. This would have also been the case for Heflin, but even if the season had gone on, he would have had an added challenge from recovering from knee injury. Instead, the season was cancelled, he graduated with a degree in supply chain management, began earning a master’s degree in Recreation and Sport Management, and got married in October. Now he is leading his team on one of the greatest runs of Tennessee baseball history.
Heflin told The Tennessee Conservative contributor Makenzie Jones that “It has just really come full circle and worth the wait to play. I love being around these guys and being around so many winners. We are excited for an electric weekend.”
In March of this season, UT swept LSU 3-1, 9-8, and 3-2. Senior Evan Russell from Lexington, TN notably hit three home runs in game two. After the series, LSU coach Paul Mainieri told reporters that the crowd at Tennessee was “nasty, nasty,” and that it was an “extremely hostile environment.” He said the team “was not handling things with a lot of class, quite frankly.”
On the other hand, after the past two regional games against Liberty, LU coach Scott Jackson told USA Today that it was a “first-class regional all the way around. The people here, the way they represent this university. I think Tony Vitello is a class act, and I think he’s done a heck of a job here. He’s a great guy, and I’m happy for him.”
The team and coaches cherish how great it has been to have fans back at the games and look forward to the energy this weekend.
Ticket Information can be found on AllVols.com.
About the Author:
Makenzie Jones is a current MBA student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and is a member of the cross country and track teams.
She earned undergraduate degrees in Communications and Sports & Outdoor Recreation. Outside of school, she enjoys scrapbooking, cooking, writing, water and snow skiing, and spending time with her family and pets in her hometown of Jefferson City, TN.