Tennessee’s 6-4 victory against Morehead State on Tuesday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium had absolutely no impact on the Vols’ last-ditch effort to qualify for the SEC baseball tournament this weekend.
The problem, UT coach Dave Serrano said, is that the Vols too often played like it.
“If we play that way this weekend, we’ll be embarrassed on our home field,” Serrano said.
Serrano spent several minutes conveying that message to his team in an outfield meeting shortly after the Vols (21-28) had finished off Morehead State (15-38).
Did his team get the message?
“If it wasn’t heard, they’ve got cotton in their ears,” Serrano said. “It was pretty firm, pretty stern and pretty direct.”
Tennessee will play host to Texas A&M starting Thursday in a three-game series that will determine whether the Vols qualify for their first SEC tournament in five years. It’s also the first time in three years that the final weekend of the season has even meant something.
“I’m not here to scare people,” Serrano said of his postgame message. “I’m here to build this program into a successful program, and I need warriors around me who want to shoot for the same thing.”
Playing for 12th place isn’t a long-term aspiration, of course, but Serrano and his young team have set a goal of playing in the Hoover, Ala., tournament since the start of the season.
Now that goal is in reach.
Tennessee is one of four teams fighting for the final two spots in the SEC tournament. Two teams will make the 12-team field; two will be done for the year.
Kentucky (10-17) and Missouri (8-19), who would be the 11th and 12th teams in the tournament if the season ended today, play each other at Missouri.
Georgia (5-19), which has the unlikeliest path to a berth, would have to
win all three games this weekend against Florida and then get serious help. That’s unlikely to happen.
So that leaves the Vols (7-18) as the weekend’s most intriguing team.
While the scenarios can be complicated, essentially UT must win one more game than Missouri.
“We could do everything we can, and if Missouri matches us, we’re not in,” Serrano said. “And we’d have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
Obviously, the Vols can’t get swept.
If UT manages only one win, the Vols would have to rely on Kentucky to sweep Missouri. If Tennessee takes two from Texas A&M, Missouri would have to lose at least two against the Wildcats.
If the Vols sweep A&M, the odds improve, but a postseason berth still isn’t assured. In that case, Missouri would have to lose at least one game, or Kentucky would have to be swept. The latter scenario is the only one in which the Wildcats could be booted from the tournament.
“They’re not real promising (scenarios), because we’re chasing right now,” Serrano said. “But we’re not out of it.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee athletics. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat