UT baseball got just what it needed against Western Carolina on Tuesday night — a small reprieve from SEC play.
After tumbling 10-ish spots, depending on which of the million-ish polls you choose to look at for the top-25 rankings in college baseball, the Vols got the bats going and beat Western Carolina 7-0.
The starting lineup definitely looked different tonight, with Vitello either A) just letting some of the younger guys get some work in or B) sending a message to his team that playing time is guaranteed for nobody. It’s probably choice A, but choice B presents maybe a more interesting narrative to run with.
Although names like Maui Ahuna, Christian Moore and Zane Denton were missing from the starting lineup, all three ended up playing at some point or another. Ahuna and Denton both went 0-1 with a strikeout, while Moore had a double, an RBI and a walk in his two plate appearances.
The lineup switcharoo paid dividends, as both Christian Scott and Cal stark homered: Scott opened up the scoring with a solo home run to field in the bottom of the second.
Stark’s blast went sky-high over the left-field fence in the fourth — just a mammoth shot that I wasn’t sure would ever drop out of orbit:
Stark started the inning off right — taking the first pitch of the one-out fourth deep, but freshman Jake Kembro got the start at first, ended up playing some second, too and kept the inning rolling along when he singled in Christian Moore, who was pinch-running for youngster Kavares Tears. Kembro had just eight at-bats prior to tonight’s game, but finished 1-3 with a hit and an RBI.
Redshirt sophomore Austin Jaslove got the start at short, and even though he’s known more for his glove than his bat at this point in his career, he scored Kembro on a double to center. Then a Western Carolina balk brought home Christian Moore, and the Vols left the fourth up 5-0.
In the bottom of the fifth, talented freshman Dylan Dreiling took a 3-1 pitch back up the middle for a single, and Christian Moore doubled him home one batter later.
The Vols continued their streak of scoring at-least one run an inning in the sixth when Christian Scott kicked off the frame with a no-out, four-pitch walk. He stole second, then Reese Chapman, another talented freshman, took a full-count walk as Scott stole third. Three-time Perfect Game High School All-American Ryan Miller, now a redshirt sophomore, pinch-hit for Jaslove and singled home Scott.
Not to be outdone, the Vols’ pitching staff mowed through the Western Carolina lineup without much trouble. Zander Sechrist started in his familiar midweek spot and struck out four over 3.2 IP. He gave up three hits but no runs or walks. Sechrist’s ERA for the year stands at 0.59, and he’s struck out more batters (16) than he’s allowed hits (12).
Aaron Combs came on in relief, and continued to show just an outstanding ability to miss bats. Just a redshirt-sophomore, Combs has 15 strikeouts in just eight innings of work. Perhaps more impressive than his 1.1 IP, two K, no hits, no walks, no runs appearance was the play in the field he made in the fifth. Just outstanding fielding from your pitcher here.
Perhaps the most impressive stint for any of the pitchers was redshirt-sophomore Jake Fitzgibbons’ top of the seventh, when he sat down three-straight batters via strikeout. One inning of work, three strikeouts and nine of his 13 pitches in the zone.
Andrew Lindsey’s ninth was nearly as impressive, as he also struck out three-straight, but that was after he walked the leadoff batter.
After dropping three-straight to Missouri, a team most entities picked to finish last or next-to-last in the SEC, Texas A&M comes to town this weekend. They’re 14-6 last I looked, but they brought back six of their top eight hitters from the SEC’s second-best offense last year.
If Tennessee’s starters don’t figure things out, and the bats continue the trend of offering little-to-less-than-little run support, it could be a long weekend at LNS stadium.