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February 1, 2007
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After reaching the College World Series two seasons ago, Tennessee entered the 2006 campaign with championship aspirations.
But instead of making the best of their situation, the Vols took a giant step back with a 31-24 record and no postseason appearance.
Last season serves as a strong reminder of what it takes to excel at a high level. And the Vols will use that to their advantage in the series at Florida State and beyond.
"I think it helps that our veteran guys remember what it took to get to Omaha," Tennessee coach Rod Delmonico said. "We've got a focused team and must not get caught up in the emotional aspect of playing a good club like the Seminoles."
Despite a few holes and the uncertainty of a new team, Delmonico is cautiously optimistic about his team's chances to compete at a high level.
"I feel very good about the team we've assembled," he said. "But anytime you play the first series of the year, there are a lot of unknowns. In reality, you really don't know what to expect."
The good news for Tennessee is that Florida State is in the same boat.
While the Vols enter the series near full strength, they must find a way to replace junior outfielder Julio Borbon.
Borbon went down with an ankle injury two weeks ago and is expected to miss several weeks. The Vols hope to have him back for the Alabama series.
"Without Julio, other guys are going to have to step up," Delmonico said. "But when I look at this series, I think it comes down to which team plays defense and pitches well. We feel good about each of those areas."
The Vols are led on the mound by veteran starters James Adkins and Craig Cobb.
Adkins, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound junior went 8-6 with a 4.50 ERA in 106 innings last season. But most impressive were his 112 strikeouts to just 42 walks.
Cobb, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior, also had solid numbers last season. He went 9-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 111 1/3 innings. He held opposing teams to a .267 batting average.
"Since the beginning of fall workouts, we have pitched very well," Delmonico said. "We are happy with the command our pitchers have displayed. And it starts with Craig (Cobb) and James (Adkins)."
The Vols also expect significant innings from third starter Lance McClain.
"Lance (McClain) won 10 games at Walters State CC last year and is a very tough competitor," he said. "He's going to give us six or seven innings a game. He will also give us a great chance to win with the way he pitches."
While the offense copes with Borbon's loss, the weekend trio of Cobb, Adkins and McClain must rise to the occasion.
And even with the unknowns, motivation won't be a problem.
Tennessee just hopes it carries them the distance in 2007.
If Florida State senior right-hander Bryan Henry could do anything before he left Tallahassee, helping the team reach the CWS would be at the top of his list.
In his two seasons with the Seminoles, Henry has put up outstanding numbers. But the 6-foot-3, 202-pound veteran admits that something is missing.
"I would love to help take our team back to the College World Series," Henry said. "If I helped do that, it would definitely leave an imprint on the program."
Henry enters his senior season with high hopes. In 2006, he went 9-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 115 2/3 innings. He also struck out 98 and walked 30, while opposing teams hit him at a .230 clip.
Even with last season's dominant numbers, Henry feels that he has improved.
"Everything has gone as planned since the start of fall workouts and that is encouraging," he said. "From a personal standpoint, I've gotten bigger and stronger and that should help me as the season moves along."
Henry is joined on the weekend by Michael Hyde and Ryan Strauss.
Hyde had a 4.34 ERA in 11 starts last season, while Strauss moves into the starting rotation in place of senior right-hander Luke Tucker, who's sidelined with an injury.
"Michael (Hyde) and Ryan (Strauss) each have good stuff," Henry said. "They're also good at filling the zones and that's encouraging to see at this point in the year."
For a surprise, Henry points to freshman right-hander Casey Whitmer.
"Casey (Whitmer) is going to be very good for this program," he said. "He has great stuff and can throw three pitchers for strikes. He also has a good head on his shoulders."
With the pitching staff started to take shape, Henry and the 'Noles are now focused on the most immediate goal ? winning a series against Tennessee.
"Everyone on the team is excited to finally play someone that isn't wearing garnet and gold," Henry said. "Tennessee can really hit the baseball, so this weekend's series should be exciting. Hopefully we play well and come out on top."
Miami weekend starter Scott Maine will miss this weekend's series against Mercer because of a violation of team rules. Freshman Eric Erickson takes his place in the weekend rotation ? UCLA freshman pitcher Charles Brewer will miss this weekend's series against Winthrop due to declining health, which stems from flu-like symptoms. Veteran left-hander Paul Schmidt takes his place in the weekend rotation ? Arkansas left-hander Nick Schmidt is the headliner in the three-game set at Louisiana Tech, but keep an eye on Bulldogs' two-way star Jericho Jones. Jones, a sophomore, had a stellar freshman campaign at the plate, but must improve his numbers on the mound ? Cal State Fullerton tries to return the favor against Stanford this weekend. In last year's series, the Cardinal swept the Titans. But this season, Titans right-hander Wes Roemer hopes to set the tone on Friday. It will also give us a chance to see if the veteran is still suffering from an injured finger ? Southern California and Long Beach State do battle this weekend and the series features a pair of weekend debuts. USC coach Chad Kreuter had his first game as the head man earlier this week, but the first series comes against the Dirtbags. Long Beach State JUCO transfer Manny McElroy, who will start this weekend, is also making his debut ? San Diego heads to the Lone Star State to face a Texas team looking for revenge. When the Longhorns faced the Toreros last season, they were dealt with a series sweep. Texas tries to return the favor with outfielder Jordan Danks leading the way. Danks, who missed much of last season with an injury, is back and 100% healthy entering the weekend series ? When UC Irvine travels to California this weekend, it will be a family affair for the Gorgen Family. UC Irvine sophomore sensation Scott Gorgen gets the starting nod against one of the nation's best ? California's Tyson Ross. As if Gorgen needed additional motivation, his brother Matt plays for the Golden Bears. Which Gorgen will go home happy this weekend?