Vols set for early test, big crowds at Houston College Classic

Zach Luther has been in the facility.

He's seen the size of the crowds and heard the support from a group of vocal, passionate fan bases.

And while that might give the Tennessee third baseman a good idea of what to expect this weekend at the Houston College Classic starting this afternoon at Minute Maid Park against Houston, there's one thing missing.

Luther was redshirting when he took in the three-day, three-game event back at Texas A&M in 2009, which gives him as much experience in what could be a postseason-type atmosphere as the rest of the baseball Vols.

"It's a fun atmosphere, to play in a pro park like Minute Maid, it's fun," Luther said. "There's a lot of people in the stands and stuff, and it's a good time, just a good experience.

"It may be hostile and stuff, but I know our team will live for situations like that."

Obviously the goal for the Vols (7-1) is to put themselves in a similar setting at the end of the season instead of near the start of it, and they should get an early barometer of their chances against a pair of ranked opponents in front of some large crowds.

When Luther was with the Aggies, nearly 14,000 packed the home of the Houston Astros to watch them take on Rice — a national power currently rated No. 4 in the country that UT faces in the finale on Sunday.

Between the Owls and the Cougars, the Vols also are slated to meet No. 16 Texas in one of the most competitive regular-season tournaments in the nation. And everything from the venue and the volume inside it to the variety of opponents could at least provide valuable experience for a team that hasn't qualified for even a conference tournament in four years.

It also might give first-year coach Dave Serrano an indicator of where his program truly is after getting off to the second-best start in school history before dropping a midweek game to Middle Tennessee State on Tuesday.

"It is a good atmosphere, (an NCAA) Regional-like atmosphere to take our guys into, but I'm excited just to go on the road," Serrano said. "I love playing at home, but everything is a little different on the road. You get out of your routine a little bit, it's not a fan-friendly environment. We're going to play in front of a lot of Texas fans, state-of-Texas team's fans, and we're going to have very few ourselves, so it's going to be good to have to deal with that adversity.

"It'll be good to put our team in a different atmosphere — because we're going to need to get used to that down the line."

The environment isn't the only thing the Vols are still trying to get comfortable with entering the third series of the season, as they've hit a few rough patches as they transition into Serrano's system.

The UT defense has been a bit shaky at times, including a stretch that featured 11 errors in three games. The pressure offense the Vols are installing has put a strain on opponents at times, but it's also produced a few too many avoidable outs. And while the pitching has largely been effective, there still have been a couple outings along the way that haven't been up to Serrano's high standards.

Through all that, the Vols still only have one blemish on their record. And if they keep it that way through the weekend, plenty of people will be around taking notice.

"I think we'll be in it for a good nine innings in each game we play this weekend," Luther said. "We're going to play good teams, but as you can see, we beat ourselves (on Tuesday).

"When we are playing our best, we're going to be really tough to beat."

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Comments » 11

MiserableFloridaVol writes:

Our family will be there cheering on the Vols. Can't wait.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

This is a big chance for our boys to make some noise. GO BIG ORANGE!

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEAR:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I hear ya!


Great opportunity for the young Vols. If we play all 3 game solid, smart and learn from them...i'll take whatever the record is coming out of it.

But if we, say win 2/3...well, i'll take that as well :)

Go BaseVOLS!

TXVolsPhan writes:

This is a great opportunity for the Vols. Houston, Texas and Rice, oh my!

voloffaith writes:

in response to TXVolsPhan:

This is a great opportunity for the Vols. Houston, Texas and Rice, oh my!

Substitute "Lions,Tigers, and Bears oh my!" If we split and come out .500 with one of those avictory over either Rice or Texas I will feel pretty goodabout weekend...not wanting a 'Texas chainsaw massacre.'

voloffaith writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Substitute "Lions,Tigers, and Bears oh my!" If we split and come out .500 with one of those avictory over either Rice or Texas I will feel pretty goodabout weekend...not wanting a 'Texas chainsaw massacre.'

hey vol4 kinda hard to play .500 ball with three game weekend isn't it? So modify down to one out of rice or texas.....2 outa 3 nice ,but I'v got to be realistic here...so many unknowns about this years team at this point.

carsonce writes:

I'll be there tonight and Sunday. Go Vols!

RUstilltalking writes:

Good weekend test, problem is we still have the scrubs from Raleigh's tenure. They should have a good showing. Last year at this time their record would have been around .500 and we would have no shot coming into the weekend. This year is different because we have someone who knows what they heck they are doing coaching this team.

robert#279270 writes:

As a Tennessee graduate who's father played baseball for Tennessee in 1950 and 1951, I have been living in Houston for some time. I saw Tennessee compete in this tournament previously @ Minute Maid and it is a great baseball environment. Tennessee will surprise some of these ranked teams this weekend. I look forward to being there and cheering them on. Go Vols!

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

The game will be on ESPN3@ 4;30

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