Mound staff key for Baseball Vols

With Tennessee's baseball team coming off a 2002 season in which its team ERA was a whopping 5.51, first-year pitching coach Fred Corral is looking for vast improvement from the 2003 mound corps. So far, he's getting it.

The Vols swept three games from Morehead State last weekend, allowing just 15 hits and four earned runs in 27 innings. Tennessee pitchers recorded 39 strikeouts, compared to just four walks. The team ERA is a sizzling 1.33. Clearly, UT's hurlers are off to a great start.

''I am very impressed with them,'' Corral said. ''I have a great bunch of kids. They have an outstanding work ethic. They have a great sense of urgency -- urgency to become better, urgency to fulfill goals.''

Ben Riley was SEC pitcher of the week last week after pitching five innings of one-hit ball against Morehead, fanning seven and issuing zero walks. He emerged as UT's top pitcher late last year, finishing with a 5-3 record and 75 strikeouts in 90 innings. His ERA was a hefty 5.08, however.

If Riley isn't the staff ace this year, that mantle could belong to Brandon Crowe, who missed the 2002 season recovering from Tommy John surgery but went 6-0 with a team-best 3.68 ERA in 2001.

Asked who he expects the most from this year, Corral responded diplomatically.

''I am going to pin high things on the entire pitching staff,'' he said. ''A staff is only as strong as its weakest link, so I want my last guys pushing everyone in front of them. We expect big things of all of our kids -- Brandon Crowe, Ben Riley, Derek Tharpe, Luke Hochevar, Rob Fitzgerald.

''Our returning corp is very, very solid. Our new guys are very exciting. We have a good defense, so we are able to go after hitters and let our fielding do a lot of work for us.''


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