Todd Raleigh told the media Tuesday that he felt that his team was capable of being a top 25 ball club.
Friday they played that way for the most part.
The third year coach said that his team had all the talent to compete for big things; they just had to learn to put everything together.
It appeared Friday night in its opener this team has come a long ways in doing just that.
A key theme with the players interviewed recently was the maturity of this ball club, how much they have grown and how hungry they were.
Friday that hunger was displayed by the Vol hitters as seven UT batters swung at first pitches.
"I thought we were ready for this game, but you never know," said a happy Raleigh following UT's 16-6 victory over defending Atlantic Conference winner Xavier. "We have a lot of good hitters on this team; they were ready for today's game."
Now the improving ball club may have to learn how to deal with adversity a lot sooner than expected.
The Vols No.1 hitter from last year and Pre-Season All-American Cody Hawn injured his left shoulder in a freak accident in the fifth inning. Hawn was enroute to the hospital following the game and was unable to do interviews following the contest.
TRUE FRESHMEN IMPRESS IN FIRST OUTING AS A VOL
Raleigh has been saying all pre-season that he had a lot of good young talent to go with a veteran group of returners.
That was very evident in the Vols opener Friday. Five true freshmen started and played important factors in UT's success.
None no more than relief pitcher Nick Blount, who pitched two innings, giving up no runs, no hits and striking out two of the six batters he faced.
Drew Steckenrider came in off the bench in the latter innings of the game and at his first college at bat, hit a two run homerun on the third pitch.
"It was awesome, first at bat, third pitch, the first pitch I liked, it got over the wall," Steckenrider said after the game. "Felt really good coming off the bat, I was pretty sure it was gone."
Another true freshman pitcher came in as a reliever but didn't fare as well as Blount. Allen Walden gave up three hits and three earned runs, three walks, one hit batsman and one hit umpire.
"Allen is going to be a good one for us," Raleigh said. "He is coming off an injury and he didn't show it tonight, but great things are in store for him also."
Several of the Vol starters had a great day at the plate.
Lead off hitter P.J. Polk went three for four with three hits and one base on balls.
Center fielder Josh Liles went three for five with one homerun and three R.B.I's.
Cody Hawn went 2 for 2 with a homerun and was hit by a pitch.
DEFENSIVE PLAY OF THE GAME
It would probably have to be a tie between third baseman Matt Duffy and shortstop Zach Osborne. Both had tremendous catches, more than one, but Duffy was able to make the throw on one of his for a big out. Osborne make a tremendous stop, but came up short on the throw in time at first.
NEW ATTITUDE, NEW CONFIDENCE
Several players and Raleigh have been saying in pre-season interviews about a new confidence and a new attitude. This team expects to win. They have trust in each other and that showed here Friday afternoon.
CODY HAWN'S INJURY
It was first thought that he injured his non throwing shoulder, but the Sport Information Department later released a statement saying it was his left arm. All Vol fans will be praying that his injury will not be serious and keep him from playing this season.
SETTING THE TONE
Red shirt junior starting pitcher Bryan Morgado said it's up to him to set the tone for each weekend series. He did just that Friday by only allowing just one hit in the first four innings and no runs. He ended up giving three earned runs on four hits through five innings of work.
"Bryan did a tremendous job today," Raleigh said. "He is one of our leaders on this team and he does have to set the tone. What a great way to start out this series."