There’s a lot to get to here, but let’s start with the most important piece of news: Kansas transfer Maui Ahuna has been declared eligible, and Tony Vitello’s self-imposed, weekend suspension is over. Both will be available for the Vols upcoming two-game, mid-week series against Charleston Southern starting Tuesday.
This is most certainly welcomed news, as the Ahuna deal was starting to drag out, and Vitello’s self-imposed suspension for the Dayton Flyer this past weekend gave the whole ordeal a weirder vibe. But whatever — it’s done.
Without Ahuna and Vitello, the Vols took all three games against the Dayton Flyers: 12-2 on Friday, 4-1 Saturday and a 6-0 shutout to complete the sweep Sunday.
FRIDAY: Tennessee got 5.2 innings and 12 strikeouts from Chase Dollander in the series opener, and below we see the whole complement of pitches. The fastball looks like it’s got a bit of rise on it, and we see the poor Flyers just guessing at what pitch might be coming next — the high heat, or the breaking ball in or out of the zone.
— PG College Baseball (@PGCollegeBall) February 27, 2023
Chase Dollander RHP @Vol_Baseball
“You will not find a better mix from a starter.” Read the full report on the top #PGDraft pitcher in the class here: https://t.co/rBxlMzxGWtpic.twitter.com/c27eX4Oyli
Dollander gave up five hits, but with just two being for extra bases: a home run and a double, both in the first inning. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five and two-thirds innings, but after the first frame, he was just scary good. Dollander is well on his way to a top-5 pick come MLB Draft time.
Everybody in the batting lineup got at least one hit, while Jared Dickey, Griffin Merritt and freshman infield Jake Kendro all left the yard for home runs. Dickey’s 3-4 day, with the homer and three RBIs led the way for the Tennessee offense, but Zane Denton and Austin Jaslove each contributed with two RBIs a piece.
The Vols used just three total pitchers Friday, with freshman AJ Russell striking out five in 2.1 innings before sophomore Aaron Combs struck out the side in the 9th on 11 total pitches. As a staff, they faced 33 batters and struck 20 of them out. Sheesh.
SATURDAY: Not to be outdone, Chase Burns also sat down 12 Flyers via strikeout, which is a new career high for the Vols’ powerful righty. Worth noting: he lasted 6.1 innings and only needed 83 pitches to get there. That’s pretty impressive combined with the double-digit strikeout number. That combination isn’t easy to accomplish, especially with the possibility of the slider getting a little wild from time to time. He gave up just two hits and one earned-run, though he walked three, as that sweeping slider can be tough to place.
Obviously the offense wasn’t as potent Saturday, with just the four runs, but they all came early. Merritt doubled in Christian Moore in the bottom of the first, then Jaslove drove home freshman outfielder Dylan Dreiling in the second with another double.
The Flyers committed four errors Saturday, and in the fourth inning, it cost them the game’s final run. A Moore single turned into a double, and Dickey made it home on the errant throw.
Again, on Saturday, the bullpen showed its stuff. This time it was Seth Halvorsen’s turn. He went the final 2.2 innings, striking out three and tossing 16 of 22 pitches for strikes. He’s so tough at the mound because of the variety of looks/ pitches/ speeds that he can give you. You get the mid-90s fastball early, and the he finishes you off with a couple sliders. Lookin’ real silly at the plate there, pal.
Seth Halvorsen (‘23 elig.) has impressed in his Vol debut. FB has sat 92-95 mph, T97 mph. Shows advanced feel for SPL at 83-85 mph. Also shown SL at 82-85 mph. Goes to it here for the K #PGDraft @Vol_Baseball pic.twitter.com/qr2pZ8FMqD— PG College Baseball (@PGCollegeBall) February 18, 2023
Halvorsen got his first save of the season, and who knows what the season holds for him, but he’s a legitimate fourth MLB-caliber starter, coming out of the bullpen.
SUNDAY: Sunday might be the Lord’s day, but he’s gonna have to share it with Drew Beam. Beam needed 75 pitches to get through 5.1 innings of one-hit, no-run ball. He walked three, so the command wasn’t quite there like it was in his 6-inning, no-hit, no-run, no-walk gem from last weekend, but for the year, he’s pitched 11.1 innings and hasn’t allowed a run. He’s a ground-ball pitcher, and he managed four groundouts. That’s good. In the end, 52 of his 75 pitches counted for strikes.
After just the four runs Saturday, the bats flared back up Sunday, and it was the Christian Moore/ Blake Burke show. Burke went 2-4 with two RBIs and left the yard twice, while Moore went 1-4 but doubled in two in the bottom of the second. Burke’s first HR came in the bottom of the first to straight-away center, then he left the yard again as the game’s final run in the bottom of the fifth — this time to left field.
Per Mike Wilson of KNS, Burke has 18 home runs in 123 at bats through the very beginning of his sophomore year, and he’s close to the halfway mark for career home runs for a Tennessee batter. That’s... just... wild. It’s way early, but Burke’s hitting .357 with four Ks, two BBs, four home runs and seven RBIs. Enjoy him while he’s here, folks.
Jaslove and Dickey also pitched in with a couple RBIs each.
Contrary to the rest of the weekend, Vitello and Frank Anderson threw several arms at the Flyers Sunday. Six total pitchers hit the mound, including three who I’m personally excited about in Zach Joyce, Jacob Bimbi and Andre Lindsey. The five pitchers who came in after Beam combined for 3.2 innings of one-hit, no-run, no-walk ball. None of the guys threw more than 12 pitches, and it was Kirby Connell and junior, Knoxville-native Bryce Jenkins who each recorded the team’s only punchouts once Beam left the game.
Tennessee’s in the midst of a long homestand, so it would be a good time to go get a look at some guys who may fall out of the bullpen battery later in the season. It’s also a good time to see how Maui Ahuna kicks off his Tennessee career.
After the Tuesday/Wednesday series with Charleston Southern, Gonzaga comes to town this weekend’s series.