Over the weekend, the 19th ranked Tennessee Volunteers baseball team opened up its 2021 campaign, waging war against the Georgia Southern Eagles. Throughout the duration of the three-game set, the Eagles tried to spoil a perfect start by amassing at least one upset – an effort that was thwarted largely with well-timed home runs.
In game one, a 5-3 win, Tennessee scored two in the first inning and wouldn’t relinquish its lead. A Jordan Beck double plated a pair in the top of the first. Then, in the third, Luc Lipcius doubled in a run before he would go to score on an error, extending the lead to 4-0. In the fifth inning, Beck (1) came through again, this time launching a solo home run to left-center, thereby giving the Volunteers their first long ball of the season.
The game was not without some dramatics, however. A three run seventh inning brought the Tennessee lead down to 5-3, thanks mostly to a home run and a run scoring double. Ultimately, however, the Eagles went quietly in the ninth, when Redmond Walsh (1) picked up a pair of punchouts and secured his first save of the season. Chad Dallas (1-0) secured the win, tossing 6.1 innings, allowing only two hits – both of which came in the seventh – and two runs, while striking out seven, and walking only one.
As interesting as game one was, game two had a much more compelling storyline. On a Saturday afternoon in Statesboro, Georgia Southern fired the opening salvo when they were able to push across the first score on a passed ball. Tennessee didn’t take long to respond, however, with Drew Gilbert (1) homering to right to knot the game up at 1-1.
Georgia Southern saw the next two runs go their way, when a double plated a run in the fourth, then a single did the same in the fifth, pushing the Eagle advantage to 3-1. After that, the game remained quiet until the eighth inning, when Jake Rucker singled in Christian Scott and Jorel Ortega, tying the game 3-3.
That score setup the theatrics which were to take centerstage in the ninth inning. With Connor Pavolony on base, Gilbert stepped to the plate with nobody out and an opportunity to help out the Tennessee cause. Reacting to a pitch he liked, he homered (2) to right field over Southern’s “blue monster,” causing an uproar around the bases, resulting in a slight altercation once he reached home plate. But after the dust settled, Tennessee had gained a 5-3 advantage.
After the first two batters recorded outs in the bottom of the ninth, Redmond Walsh (1-0) allowed a single, then was the victim of a passed ball, before walking the tying run. He concluded the game with a strikeout, picking up his first win of the season and securing a 2-0 start to the year for the Volunteers.
Blake Tidwell started the third game of the series and pitched four innings, allowing two runs, one earned. Camden Sewell tossed three innings in relief, giving up a run, before giving way to Walsh in the eighth and ninth.
When Tennessee took the field Sunday afternoon, they were looking to secure their first sweep of the season and continue their perfect start to the year. Elijah Pleasants was the starter in orange (or, gray in this case), and ultimately gave the Vols five innings of work, allowing three runs, two earned, to go along with one strikeout. Jackson Leath would pitch 5.2 innings, allowing only three hits, walking a pair, and striking out six. Sean Hunley (1-0) got the last inning and a third, surrendering two hits and striking out four. He would go on to earn his first win of the season.
These two teams matched tallies in the in the second, resulting in a 1-1 score heading to the third inning. Tennessee plated a pair in that inning, courtesy of a Jordan Beck home run (2), pushing the Volunteers ahead 3-1. Southern responded in kind with a two-run job of their own, knotting the game at 3-3. This game appeared to be following a similar pattern as the two prior.
For the next six innings, the scoring fell silent. It wasn’t until a Liam Spence grand slam (1) in the top of the twelfth inning were the Volunteers able to take the lead and not look back.
After a game that lasted nearly four hours, Tennessee headed back to Knoxville with three wins under their belt and an excellent start to the season. The Vols will open up home play Tuesday afternoon when Arkansas-Pine Bluff (first pitch, 4:30) comes to town for a quick two game set. That series concludes with a 4:30 start late Wednesday afternoon.