After multiple lead changes throughout the game, Christian Moore snagged a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth, and Jared Dickey brought him home with a walk-off sacrifice fly to give the Vols an 8-7 victory, while also securing the series win after taking the first two games of the weekend series.
Like Dollander last night, Chase Burns gave up two runs in the top of the first, but after that he settled in and retired 11 out of 12 Aggies in innings two-through-6.2, but then the wheels came off. And the transmission went out. And the engine just dropped right out the car.
Texas A&M plated four runs in the sixth, all with two outs. Burns needed three pitches to get the first two outs, and then he gave up a single and back-to-back doubles. Vitello yanked Burns two walks and two stolen bases later, but Kirby Connell surrendered a bases-loaded walk to the first batter he faced, then Zane Denton muffed a two-hopper to third that should have been an easy play to first for the inning’s final out. Instead, the Aggies scored that fourth and final run of the sixth, giving A&M a 7-4 lead.
While Burns was dealing in the middle innings, the Volunteer offense managed just two singles in innings two-through-five, whereas last night, it answered A&M’s two runs in the first with five runs and added two in the second, two in the fifth and one in the seventh.
We’ll stay with Burns here for a moment, because he was masterful from the second inning through the first two outs in the sixth. He was hanging up in the high 90s with the fastball and striking Aggies out with his wipeout slider:
His end-of-game stats look bad: 5.2 IP, six hits, six runs (five earned), two BB and eight Ks, but that doesn’t do his performance its due justice. The sixth frame was bad, yes, but he retired 14 of 15 batters from the second through two outs in the sixth, and at one point, he threw 17-straight strikes. He ended up with 68 of 99 going for strikes for the game, but his ERA is all the way up to 4.69 (nice) for the season.
After the blowout in the sixth, things looked a bit bleak. But the bats answered one run from the Aggies in the top of the seventh with three of their own. Christian Moore, naturally, kicked things off with a base hit on an 0-2 count after Ahuna flew out to right to start off the inning.
Moore advanced to third on a wild pitch, and Hunter Ensley, who started in center today instead of left where he played last night, singled to left and scored Moore.
Then Jared Dickey blasted a ball to right field — 106 MPH exit velo — but the wind kept the ball in play, but it twisted it around enough that the Aggie outfield couldn’t make the play.
even tho it wasn't a homer: 106 exit velo, 29° https://t.co/v0qjvQFOos— Tennessee Baseball (@Vol_Baseball) March 25, 2023
The triple scored Ensley, and Tennessee tied the game back up at 7-7.
Neither Connell or Zach Joyce lasted long in their relief appearances — Connell walked the only batter he saw, and Joyce subsequently gave up two hits, a run and a wild pitch without managing an out.
After Andrew Lindsey came in and got things back in order with two scoreless innings in which he allowed no hits, no runs, no walks and struck out four of the six batters he faced, the offense had a chance to take the lead in the eighth. Charlie Taylor drew a four-pitch, one-out walk, and Vitello subbed Christian Scott in to pinch run for Taylor. Ahuna reached on a fielder’s choice but Scott was called out at second. On the next pitch, Maui got picked off trying to steal second for the inning-ending out.
Vitello left Lindsey out for the ninth, and he gave up a lead-off, four-pitch walk before getting A&M’s Jack Moss (3-5 on the day with a HR and three RBIs) to pop up into the third-base area that Ahuna managed to track down and catch despite the swirling wind.
Camden Sewell, the fifth pitcher used by the Vols on the day, replaced Lindsey with one on one out in the ninth and induced an inning-ending double play on an 0-2 count. Sewell needed just three pitches to get the two outs needed to end the top of the ninth.
In the bottom half of the game’s final frame, Moore started things with a leadoff walk and then made it into scoring position on a wild pitch. Burke grounded out, and the Aggies put Ensley on with an intentional walk. That put Jared Dickey up with one out and Moore on third and Ensley on first. Dickey hit another blast to right field, and once again it didn’t leave the park, but it was enough to score Moore on a walk-off sacrifice fly.
The top of the Vols’ lineup carried the team today — outside of Blake Burke’s 1-5 performance. Ahuna went 1-3 with a walk and two RBIs, Moore was 2-3 at the plate with one RBI and two runs, including the game-winner in the bottom of the ninth. Ensley struck out twice, but his one hit and one RBI was crucial to Tennessee’s comeback in the seventh.
Then, of course, the day belonged to Jared Dickey, who had the wind rob him of two likely home runs, but he still finished 3-4 with two RBIs, including the game-winner and finished without a strikeout in the game.
Just a note — the bottom of Tennessee’s lineup produced nearly nothing offensively. Zane Denton went 0-2 in the seventh spot, Griffin Merritt went 0-3 with two Ks in the eighth spot and Charlie Taylor went 0-2 but at least had two walks.
The Vols go for the sweep tomorrow with Drew Beam on the bump, and the first pitch is scheduled for 1 PM.