The No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers (49-16, 21-10) faced off against the LSU Tigers (38-24, 13-18) on Saturday night with the hope of getting a leg up in the series that will send the winner to Ohama, Nebraska to partake in the 2021 College World Series.
Chad Dallas kept the Vols around with one of his best games in recent memory. It took about five-and-a-half innings, but Tennessee’s offense finally woke up in the bottom of the sixth inning, which proved to be the difference in the game. The Vols scored three runs on two hits to take a 4-2 lead and never looked back.
Tennessee is now one step closer to Ohama. Let’s recap how it all went down.
Chad Dallas received the start for the Vols and had an excellent opening run, retiring all three batters in the exact order. Ma’Khail Hilliard returned the favor to close out a scoreless first inning.
That changed quickly, however, as Cade Doughty homered over the right field wall to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the top of the second. Drew Bianco singled and then stole second to give LSU a chance at extending its lead, but Dallas struck out the next two batters to get the Vols defense off the field.
But Hilliard repeated his bottom-of-the-first results and retired the next three Vols batters. LSU still led, 1-0, heading into the top of the third inning.
A weather delay caused officials to hit the pause button for about 50 minutes before play resumed. But that didn’t affect Max Ferguson, however, as he made a diving catch. to record the first out of the inning. It wasn’t just a diving catch, either. Ferguson extended his entire body and caught the ball about one foot off the ground. Don’t be surprised if the play ends up on Sportcenter’s Top-10. It was that good. The Vols would clean up the rest of the inning, giving the offense a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the third.
Jordan Beck got things off to a good start with a double to open the inning. He then advanced to third thanks to a Pete Derkay dribble down the left infield sideline. Derkay didn’t make it to first base in time, but it ended up moot as Connor Pavolony was able to drive Beck home with a groundout to shortstop. The Vols failed to generate any more runs, but they were at least able to tie the game, 1-1, as it continued into the top of the fourth inning.
Dallas shut down any kind of hope when it came to LSU breaking the tie. It took him 21 pitches to strike out the next three batters, pushing his numbers to eight strikeouts on the night. Hilliard continued the strong pitching performance on both sides with a three-up-three-down performance on nine pitches in the bottom of the fourth.
Dallas’ strong game faded a bit in the top of the fifth inning. Bianco singled to start things off and then Dallas hit Cade Beloso, which put him on first and Bianco in scoring position on second base.
Bianco then attempted to steal third. Pavolony tried to throw him out, but his poor throw bounced through Jake Rucker’s glove and not only allowed Bianco to steal third, but advance home and give the Tigers a 2-1 lead in the top of the fifth inning.
Dallas was in a tough spot with no outs. Regardless, he recovered by striking out Jordan Thompson and Alex Milazzo. Dylan Crews then grounded out, which ended the Tigers’ chance at extending the lead.
Luc Lipcius opened the bottom of the fifth with a single and then advanced to second base thanks to a Derkay groundout. No one could send him home, though, and the Vols trailed, 2-1, heading into the top of the sixth inning.
Zach Arnold’s lead-off single started the sixth. The Tigers had a chance to send him home once Doughty pushed him to second, but Dallas closed out the top of the sixth by forcing Bianco into a pop fly for the third out.
Javen Coleman, a freshman lefty, would come in for Hilliard to start the bottom of the sixth. Things started off well with a Spence strikeout, but quickly fell apart after a Ferguson walk and Rucker double that put him and Ferguson on second and third with just one out and none other but Drew Gilbert at home plate.
A major mental mistake on Doughty’s part allowed the Vols to tie the game at 2-2. Gilbert grounded one to shortstop, but Doughty’s inability to make a decision and get rid of the ball gave Ferguson the opening to get to home plate. And to make things worse, Gilbert was able to get to first base. Therefore, the Vols now had runners on first and third with Evan Russell up next.
Coleman walked Russell. Now, the bases were loaded with one out and Lipcius was the next batter at home plate. Lipcius was able to not only reach first base, but he drove Rucker home to give the Vols a 3-2 lead. Tennessee still had a chance to extend the lead, as well, with Gilbert on third and Lipcius on second.
Beck came through again. This time it was a single that dropped perfectly in-between LSU’s first basemen and right fielder. Gilbert scored. The Vols led, 4-2. And Beck and Lipcius were on first and third. Coleman found himself in familiar territory as his third walk of the game led to another bases loaded situation.
This time it was Pavolony’s at-bat. He couldn’t extend Tennessee’s lead, but the damage had been done by this point. Tennessee led, 4-2, as the top of the seventh inning rolled around.
Sean Hunley came in for Dallas, who finished the night with a 1.50 ERA, five hits, and 12 strikeouts on 99 pitches through six innings.
Would the Vols’ pitching change have the same result(s) as LSU’s or would they encounter a different experience?
In a word: no. Hunley retired three straight batters in seven pitches to keep the Vols’ lead at 4-2 entering the bottom of the seventh inning. Coleman came through with a much, much more effective half-inning of pitching this time around and kept the score the same as the game went into the eighth inning.
LSU’s best chance at a comeback was at this point in the game. The top of their lineup was now at the plate. It was up to Hunley to keep the Tigers quiet.
Could he do it?
In a word: yes. Crews was able to notch a leadoff single, but Hunley quickly corrected course. He struck out Arnold and Tre’ Morgan, but tragedy struck for the Tigers as Crews overran second base during an attempt to steal said base. Pavolony was able to make the throw to second and the Vols ended the top of the eighth still up, 4-2.
Tennessee couldn’t get anything done in the bottom of the eighth inning and to make matters worse, LSU ‘s offense was able to make some plays early in the top of the ninth to make things interesting.
LSU found itself with runners on second and third with two outs left and Thompson at the plate. All it needed was a solid single and this is a tied ball game.
The count quickly became 1-2, but Thompson kept himself alive with a foul ball. A ball from Hunley made it a 2-2 count. Thompson fouled again to keep the count going. He fouled again.
Then came the third ball from Hunley.
Thompson, who was 0-for-3 on the night at this point, took a swing at Hunley’s pitch, but couldn’t connect for the third strikeout. Game over. The Vols would go on to win, 4-2.
The Vols and Tigers will face off again on Sunday, June 13. If Tennessee wins it will advance to the 2021 College World Series. First pitch is scheduled for 3PM EST and ESPN2 will broadcast the game.
You can check out the final score and stats here.