With the regular season steadily drawing to a close, the fifth ranked Tennessee Volunteers baseball team continues to end the season on a high note, jockeying for spots in the Southeastern Conference standings, as well as the impending NCAA tournament.
On Friday night, the Vols (34-11, 14-7) set their sights on a struggling Missouri Tigers’ team. The Tigers, 13-29 overall and 5-16 in-conference entering play, haven’t been able to pull much weight around the mighty SEC, finding themselves squarely in last place in the SEC East and with by far the worst overall record in the league.
With a 6:32 pm first pitch Friday night, these two clubs squared off for their first of three games in Columbia. The game was played in a brisk two hours and 27 minutes, culminating, narrowly, in a Volunteer win as the club headed into Saturday on a high note.
The Vols started the game with Chad Dallas on the bump. Dallas, as he’s been known to do, turned in a good performance on the mound, finishing off seven innings, allowing six hits and four runs, while striking out eight en route to his eighth win of the year. His efforts, in addition to Sean Hunley’s save-earning (5) two innings of work, would be just good enough to give the Tennessee bats a workable deficit.
Missouri was the first team on the board, however, when Andrew Keefer got a pitch to his liking and belted a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning, resulting in an early 1-0 Mizzou advantage.
In the next inning, the Tigers would pounce once again, when Brandt Belk found a hole in the right side and delivered two more runs across the plate, putting Tennessee in an early hole and culminating in a 3-0 Missouri lead.
But the Vols would strike back in the top of the fourth inning when Jordan Beck singled, enabling Evan Russell to come in and score, cutting the deficit to 3-1. In that same inning, Liam Spence drew a bases loaded walk, which forced Luc Lipcius in to score. By inning’s end, Tennessee had narrowed the gap to 3-2.
With Max Ferguson at the plate in the sixth inning, another run would find its way home after a Ferguson double, finally drawing the game back to even at 3-3.
But a single by Keefer in the next half inning would reclaim the lead for Missouri when Belk would score on the play, putting the Tigers back ahead 4-3.
An inning passed without much in the way of production, but in the eighth inning and a runner aboard, Ferguson got a pitch to his liking and managed to drive it out of the ballpark, netting Tennessee its first lead of the night and one it wouldn’t relinquish, 5-4.
Feeling good from the night before, Tennessee entered game two of the series poised to claim victory early on. In a game that started just after 3:00 pm, the Vols made their presence known early.
The scoring started when Drew Gilbert doubled in a run, quickly netting Tennessee a 1-0 advantage. In that same inning, Luc Lipcius would single home a pair before Pete Derkay singled in the final run of the inning, pushing Tennessee ahead much earlier than the previous night. Heading into the bottom of the first, the Vols controlled a 4-0 lead.
Tennessee gave the ball to Will Heflin to begin his afternoon on the mound. Heflin would allow Torin Montgomery to reach via an RBI double, which scored Andrew Keefer and Mark Vierling, cutting the Tennessee lead in half, 4-2.
In the bottom of the third, Missouri would knot the game up after a Tre Morris double plated two more, making it 4-4.
Tennessee, however, would do the rest of the scoring. Russell doubled in Gilbert and Rucker in the fifth inning, reclaiming the lead in a 6-4 ballgame.
With the bases loaded in the sixth, a Gilbert double would drive in everybody, putting the Vols in the driver’s seat of a 9-4 game.
For good measure, Lipcius’s ninth home run of the year was a two-run job, pushing Tennessee ahead 11-4.
The Vols would go on to win by seven runs, with Camden Sewell getting the win (2-0) after going two innings, allowing two hits, no runs, and striking out four. Kirby Connell and Elijah Pleasants also made scoreless appearances; the former for three innings, the latter for one.
Sunday afternoon’s game three kicked off with Blade Tidwell on the mound. Looking to secure a sweep, Tidwell turned in seven innings of solid work, allowing one run on two hits and two walks, while striking out five.
In the bottom of the first, the Tigers kicked off the scoring when Andrew Keefer hit a sacrifice fly, plating Josh Holt and staking Missouri to a 1-0 lead.
Tennessee’s quick response came on a Max Ferguson home run the following inning; it was a three-run shot that gave control to Tennessee, 3-1.
In the next inning, an Evan Russell double brought in Drew Gilbert, extending the lead to 4-1. The fifth inning saw three more runs come across after a pair of doubles and then a sacrifice fly, making it 7-1.
The sixth inning plated another trio of runs for the Volunteers, after a single and then a fielder’s choice and throwing error, giving Tennessee an insurmountable 10-1 lead.
Missouri would add one in the bottom of the ninth on a sacrifice fly but that’s all they’d get, resulting in a 10-2 Tennessee win.
With the sweep, Tennessee improves to 37-11 overall and 17-7 in-conference. Play continues for the Volunteers on Tuesday with a home matchup against Tennessee Tech, serving as a tuneup to a massive weekend series against the first ranked Arkansas Razorbacks. That series will take place at Lindsey Nelson Stadium with games to begin Friday at 6:30 pm, followed by a matchup Saturday at noon, and ending with a Sunday matinee set to kick off at 1:00 pm.