The bottom line looks virtually the same for Tennessee baseball as it did a year ago and that's not good. You've got to look closer, says coach Todd Raleigh.
The Vols finished with a bang, sweeping Vanderbilt over the weekend. Finishing, however, is not what any college team wants to be doing at the moment.
The postseason is just beginning and Tennessee won't be taking part in either the SEC or NCAA tournaments. Again.
Raleigh's first UT squad in 2008 ended 27-29, 12-18 in the SEC.
His second finished 26-29, 11-19 SEC.
It marks the first consecutive losing seasons for UT since 1989-90. Still, Raleigh said Monday, his first two years were "polar opposites" in how they ended.
"Last year at the end of the year, we were going the other way,'' he said. "This year at the end we're going forward.
"Last year, it was we can't wait to get out. This year the kids want to play.''
Raleigh spent Monday meeting with players and setting his recruiting schedule.
While Internet chat rooms suggest disgruntled defections, Raleigh paints a more upbeat picture. He said going 4-0 on a road trip to close the regular season left the players wanting more.
The incident involving third baseman Tyler Horne last Tuesday at Middle Tennessee State was not reflective of team chemistry, Raleigh said:
"I've never seen a team as fired up as we were this weekend.''
Tennessee's was a tale of two seasons. The Vols started 1-11 in the SEC, then finished 10-8 down the stretch.
Another departure from 2008 was the schedule.
"Last year our RPI was 89th and this year it's 59th,'' he said. "I want to say that's the biggest increase in the league by far.
"Last year our strength of schedule was 55, this year it's top 10 (11th, actually, in one rating).
"Maybe I'm guilty of putting a young team out there too quickly against too good of a schedule. It didn't quite pan out the way we wanted to, but I still think it prepares us for later on.''
Speaking of later on, Raleigh understands that his third year at UT will have to show progress - not just in stats or RPI but in the win column.
Athletic director Mike Hamilton could not be reached Monday, but has been positive about Raleigh's trend in strengthening UT's academic standing.
The 2009 team played with a scholarship reduction due to a poor APR score. That won't be the case in 2010.
"The bottom line is win-loss, I understand that,'' Raleigh said. "It's the real world.
"There was a lot of progress this year but it's not going to show in the bottom line.
"If we're not going in the right direction next year I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing.''
The Vols return many of their leading performers.
Cody Hawn and Blake Forsythe had outstanding sophomore seasons and Zach Osborne had an impressive freshman season at shortstop.
But the major league draft is always the wild card.
Outfielders Kentrail Davis and Josh Liles and pitcher Bryan Morgado are draft-eligible sophomores.
Incoming pitchers like Chad Bell of Walters State and several freshmen also are subject to the draft next month.
"The kids are saying the right things,'' Raleigh said. "I might be crying in June, but I think we've definitely got some pitchers coming in.''
Three touted high school signees could be more likely to actually play for UT because injuries might downgrade their draft status: pitchers Alan Walden of Red Bank and Jon Reed from Oklahoma and Georgia outfielder Drew Steckenrider.
Matt Duffy, a Freshman All-America pick in 2008 at Vermont, is transferring to UT to play third base because Vermont dropped baseball.
"The bar is set a lot higher next year,'' Raleigh said. "There's got to be more than just enthusiasm.
"There's no more thinking about winning. We've got to win.''
Bat-Gate: Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin was still talking Monday on a Nashville radio station about his suspicions concerning the bat Hawn used to hit the game-winning home run Saturday. Corbin thinks the composite bat manufactured by Easton should be illegal.
"Cody is the best hitter I've ever coached,'' said Raleigh. "I've always thought that it's not the arrow, it's the Indian.''
Raleigh said nine SEC teams use Easton bats and said UT does not tamper with them.
"We've never done anything to make bats illegal,'' he said. "I'm not with the players 24/7 but I don't think Cody would do anything like that.
"The umpire looked at the bat (at Corbin's request) and said it looked 100 percent legal.''
Per SEC policy when such an issue is raised, the bat was confiscated after the game. As of Monday night, Raleigh had heard nothing from the league office.
Corbin, whom Raleigh said is on the collegiate rules committee, has raised the composite-bat issue long before the UT series. He called it "the steroids of college baseball.''