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Tennessee baseball opens SEC play with series sweep of South Carolina

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Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Anchored by the youth on its pitching staff, the Diamond Vols went three-and-oh against the two-time College World Series Champion South Carolina Gamecocks this weekend.

GAME 1: VOLS WIN 8-3

Freshman Friday starter Chase Burns was dynamic in the series opener on Friday. He pitched a season-high 6.2 innings, struck out nine and surrendered just one earned run. South Carolina managed just four base runners against Burns — on two hits and on two walks — but drove home just a single run. That lone run scored ballooned Burns’ season ERA to 0.81.

The bats gave Burns some early support, with Drew Gilbert knocking home Jorel Ortega in the first on a base hit, and Cortland Lawson punishing Gamecock pitcher Noah Hall for walking Evan Russell by blasting a two-run home run out to left field. The Lawson/ Russell duo gave South Carolina fits all game out of the bottom of Tennessee’s batting order. They combined for four hits and knocked in five of the Vols’ total eight runs.

Camden Sewell finished off the seventh inning for Burns and then pitched a scoreless eighth and in total, he struck out three of the four total batters he faced. Since the tough outing against Texas, in Houston, back in early March, Sewell’s allowed two runs in five innings of work while striking out six.

Kirby Connell finished off the ninth, though he had to work through some trouble to get there. The game was never in question, but Connell gave up three hits and two runs through the seven faced-batters.

GAME 2: VOLS WIN 5-2

Again, the Tennessee bats jumped on South Carolina right out of the gates. This time, Luc Lipcius took a full-count pitch deep for a solo home run, and then Ortega knocked home Jordan Beck, who had singled and advanced to second when South Carolina walked Gilbert prior to Ortega’s at bat.

Tennessee rode that 2-0 lead through a scoreless second inning, and then Jordan Beck just destroyed a baseball out to left field. Please excuse the typo in the following tweet. This ball is clearly sent out into left field, not right field, but SOMETIMES I GET EXCITED OKAY.

Beck with 3-4 for the day, had this RBI and accounted for two of Tennessee’s five runs scored.

The Vols struck again in the fifth inning, when Gilbert walked and Ortega doubled him in. The next batter, Tennessee’s hoss, freshman DH, Blake Burke, took the first pitch way down the right-field line for a triple. I wasn’t sure how soon Burke would be ready, but man does he pass the eye test. He’s GROWN.

Chase Dollander was on the mound, as is the case on Saturdays. And as long as nobody gets on base, things are fine. But the game always gets a little more interesting once Dollander allows a base runner. His windup and Russell behind the plate make for an occasionally volatile combination for the Volunteer defense. But his stuff is so good, it seems like Tennessee is just gonna kinda roll with it and manage it as necessary. He went five innings on the day and struck out seven, while allowing just three hits and one run. The sophomore transfer from Georiga Southern is now 3-0 on the season and averaging nearly nine strikeouts per start.

GAME 3: VOLS WIN 10-0

For the Tennessee offense, things got off to a slower start on Sunday compared to the other two games in the series. The Vols went through two inning scoreless and then put up more than one run in four of the next six innings.

All 10 of Tennessee’s runs came off extra base hits: freshman Christian Moore and Russell hit back-to-back home runs in the third; Trey Lipscomb homered in the sixth and then Russell homered again in the eighth. Gilbert and Beck also had a two-RBI double each.

The story Sunday, though, was freshman pitcher Drew Beam. Beam, like Burns and Blade Tidwell, is a local product. Beam’s from Murfreesboro, and while he wasn’t as highly-rated coming out of high school, he’s been fantastic in his first year as a Vol.

Beam took a no-hitter into the seventh and ended up pitching 7.2 innings of one-hit ball before Vitello took him out. He doesn’t have the same high-90s stuff that Burns and Tidwell overpower hitters with, but he levels that out with great command. We thought maybe he’d just be sorta a hold-over until Tidwell comes back, but Beam’s allowed runs in just one of his five outings so far this season.

Right now, the Vols’ group of starting pitchers is comprised almost entirely of underclassmen, with Dollander being a sophomore and the oldest. I don’t know what the most recent news is regarding Tidwell or Seth Halvorsen, but it’s been great to see Tennessee’s young starters hit the ground running.

Also, here’s the requisite Ben Joyce video. He hit 104 on the gun during his outing Sunday.

Joyce doesn’t typically stay in the game long — his longest outing of the season is two innings against Rhode Island on March 13th — but there’s no reason for Vitello to push him much further than that. He’s totaled 6.2 innings pitched in nine outings so far, but he’s struck out 10 and surrendered just four hits for the year.

Tennessee plays Butler as the midweek game on Tuesday before getting back to SEC play this weekend. The Vols travel to Oxford for three games against the No. 1-ranked Rebels.