The University of Tennessee was widely heralded as one of the best college baseball team in a generation. But like so many other top seeds through the years, the Volunteers couldn’t navigate the N.C.A.A baseball playoffs and were eliminated without even making it to the eight-team College World Series.
The playoffs began advantageous for Tennessee. After a 53-7 regular season and a Southeastern Conference title and No. 1 rating, Tennessee swept by some lesser competition within the opening rounds.
Nevertheless it met surprising opposition from Notre Dame within the super regional, the round of 16 stage.
Notre Dame was top-of-the-line unseeded teams within the tournament, but still was hardly expected to beat a Tennessee team that had a number of home run hitters and one of the best E.R.A. in Division I. Tennessee also had the advantage of playing the best-of-three series at home.
But within the opener, Notre Dame hit home runs in each of the primary three innings and took a 5-0 lead against the Tennessee ace Blade Tidwell, then held on to win, 8-6. It was the primary time in 20 years that Notre Dame had beaten the No. 1 team within the country.
Tennessee’s 12-4 win in Game 2 looked rather a lot more like what fans had expected. And Tennessee seemed as if it might escape the series when it led, 3-1, within the seventh inning within the decider. But back-to-back homers in that inning gave Notre Dame a 4-3 lead, and the Fighting Irish stretched it to a 7-3 final rating.
Blame it on the variance of baseball — or some type of College World Series curse, when you like. No team seeded No. 1 has won the World Series since Miami in 1999. Tennessee is the third straight No. 1 seed not even to make the eight-team World Series, following Arkansas in 2021 and U.C.L.A. in 2019 (the 2020 tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic).
“I believe what must keep on with our guys when time passes: They are saying time heals all wounds,” Coach Tony Vitello said after losing the series. “I don’t know who ‘they’ are.”
“Fifty-seven, that’s rather a lot,” he said of the team’s win total, including the playoffs. “A bunch of excellent kids. A pair maniacs on the market.”
Notre Dame returns to the College World Series for the primary time in 20 years and third time overall.
Softball’s own superteam, Oklahoma, had no such problems, completing a 59-3 season last week with a Women’s College World Series victory.
No team higher than a No. 5 seed was among the many six teams that had advanced to the baseball World Series as of Monday. No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon State appeared to be possible favorites, but they each faced single-elimination games on Monday night to advance into the last two spots.
Lots of Tennessee’s players will go on to skilled careers: Three of them are expected to go in the primary round of Major League Baseball’s 2022 draft next month: Tidwell and outfielders Drew Gilbert and Jordan Beck.
But turning pro won’t make them College World Series winners. And Tennessee will still be searching for its first title.