The Tennessee hitters definitely picked up where they left off in final inning of Friday’s game with Blake Gilbert’s walk-off grand slam. The Vols scored seven of their nine runs in the first three innings, and all seven of those runs left the park off the barrell of Tennessee’s bats as home runs.
Both Liam Spence and Luc Lipcius homered twice for UT, with Spence starting the game with a lead-off round-tripper and then adding a three-run shot that scored Connor Pavolony and Pete Derkay in the second. Both of Lipcius’ home runs were solo shots, but the second one was a mammoth blast to straight-away center. Lindsey Nelson’s centerfield wall is 390 feet, and the second home run from Lipcius cleared that wall plus the batter’s eye wall behind it. From the comfy confines of my couch, it looked like that ball traveled somewhere in the 425-450-feet range.
Freshman Blade Tidwell started for Tennessee, but he didn’t have the stuff today that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. To be fair — he worked through some traffic on the bases early without giving up any runs through his first four innings of work. But his fastball looked to stay pretty consistently in the low 90s instead of running from the mid-to-upper 90s like it has in his last couple starts. He hit the 100-pitch mark in the fifth, looked gassed and ran into some trouble that was compounded by some defensive miscues from his fielders.
Tidwell gave up a single and his third walk on back-to-back hitters in the sixth right before an error from third baseman Jake Rucker allowed Liberty to plate its first run of the game. Manager Tony Vitello sat Tidwell, who finished with 5.2 innings pitched, and three strikeouts to go with those three walks, for leftie Kirby Connell. The first batter Connell faced singled to right, and the Vols got bit again as Jordan Beck misplayed the bounce allowing two more Liberty baserunners to score.
Connell got the final out of the sixth on the next batter, but only lasted two hitters into the seventh inning after he gave up a lead-off double and a walk in succession.
Camden Sewell, who’s been nothing short of brilliant in his recent appearances, came in to get Tennessee out of that jam and finish the game. He gave up just one hit in his three innings pitched while striking out four and surrendering zero walks.
Connell’s struggles of late haven’t gone unnoticed, either. Tennessee ended up having to burn a pitcher on few pitches and just 1⁄3 of an inning due to his inability to get outs.
Of some note: both Liberty’s manager and its pitching coach got ejected during the game, and that kinda thing is pretty amusing when it’s not your coaches and your team wins the game 9-3.
The Vols advance to the regional final and will play the winner of Duke and Liberty’s game tomorrow at 6 PM. Perks of the winner’s bracket — whichever team Tennessee plays will be playing its second game of the day.