(Photo courtesy of UT Athletics)

Perhaps no NCAA baseball coach has seen his stock rise more this year than Tennessee Volunteers coach Tony Vitello.

The 42-year-old has led the Vols to a 45-16 record, including a 20-10 record in the SEC, and the No. 3 national seed — one ahead of Vanderbilt — in the NCAA Tournament. UT will host Liberty, Duke and Wright State at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in the Knoxville Regional — the first time the school has hosted a regional in 16 years.

It’s the Vols’ second NCAA Regional appearance under Vitello, who took over the program in 2018. Vitello led Tennessee to a 40-21 record in 2019, finishing third in the SEC East and making it to the program’s first regional since 2005. 

UT went 15-2 last year before the season was canceled due to COVID-19. The Vols continued where they left off this year, finishing first in the East and making the school’s first SEC Tournament championship game since 1995.

As a team, UT ranks third in the nation in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.64), fourth in WHIP (1.15) and seventh in ERA (3.38).

Tennessee won three games during the SEC Tournament before falling to conference champion and No. 1 overall seed Arkansas. Prior to that, the program had won only four games in 10 SEC Tournament appearances dating back to 1996.

In Game 1 on Friday, Duke faces Liberty at noon on the ACC Network, while Tennessee plays Wright State at 6 p.m. on ESPN3. The winners of those two games play each other on Saturday at 6 p.m. and the losers of each play at 2 p.m.

Should Tennessee win its regional, it would face the winner of the Eugene Regional, comprised of No. 14 Oregon, Central Connecticut State, Gonzaga and LSU.

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_

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