This one looked like it might not be Tennessee’s night from the start.
Veteran midweek starter Zander Sechrist got the nod and was pulled after allowing three-straight hits without recording an out (on seven total pitches) during the top of the first inning, while Tennessee Tech put up 18 hits on 11 Volunteer pitchers to beat UT 12-5.
After the three-straight base knocks from Tech in the first, Vitello yanked Sechrist for freshman AJ Russell. Russell was in quite the jam, with the bases loaded and no outs. He struck out the first batter he faced, but a 3-1 pitch went for a ball, and Tech scored the first run of the game, charged to Sechrist. Russell needed just three pitches to get the final two outs.
In the top of the second, Russell got three outs on just 10 pitches, all while the Vols’ bats didn’t manage a hit in the first or second frame.
Tech blew the game open with a four-run third inning, as Vitello pulled Russell in between innings in favor of Bryce Jenkins. Jenkins gave up a lead-off single, then a passed ball got the lead-off runner into scoring position. Then Jenkins gave up back-to-back walks before giving up a two-run double to center.
Vitello tried Aaron Combs next, and he went on to give up two-straight run-scoring singles before striking out the final two batters. Four runs on four hits for Tech in the T3, and the Golden Eagles led 5-0 going into the bottom of the third.
Thankfully, the offense woke up after getting busted in the chin, as a Christian Scott walk and a Logan Chambers single set the table for Hunter Ensley’s three-run home run to left.
Ensley, just a RS sophomore, has been the Vols’ best bat since SEC play started by quite a margin. He’s hitting .333 in SEC games and is one of two Vols over the .300 mark during league games. Obviously tonight doesn’t feed into those stats, but the home run still reinforces the idea that he’s Tennessee’s best hitter right now.
He led off tonight, as Vitello used the midweek game to toy with the lineup again. It’s clear he’s still searching for the button to press to get this team playing to its potential.
Ensley accounted for the Vols’ only run in the bottom of the fourth, too, after Scott smacked a two-out single, Logan Chambers walked and Ensley singled to left to score Scott.
UT went three-up, three-down in the B5 after Jacob Bimbi gave up a lead-off single in the top of the inning but managed to strike out the next three hitters.
Tech added to its lead in the T6, when Bimbi gave up a lead-off single, which prompted Vitello to bring in Zach Joyce. Joyce hit a batter and immediately exited the game with the trainer looking at his elbow.
Jake Fitzgibbons came in completely cold after Joyce’s injury, and Tech cleanup hitter John Dyer took an 0-2 pitch outta the park for a two-run shot. The Golden Eagles increased their lead to 7-4 after 6.5 innings.
The Vols made an attempt at a response in the B6 with a Griffin Merritt lead-off single. But the next two hitters — Jake Kendro and Christian Scott — struck out. Cal Stark drew a full count walk, but this time, Ensley didn’t come through and flew out to right to end the inning with two runners stranded.
Vitello brought out freshman Andrew Behnke, who had exactly one appearance before tonight, for the T7. Behnke struck out the first batter he faced but followed that with two walks with a groundout that advanced the runner in between. Vitello gave Behnke the hook in favor of Kirby Connell to get UT out of the jam, and Connell struck out the final batter of the inning to keep it a 7-4 game.
UT managed one run in the 8th, as leadoff hitter Dylan Dreiling drew a leadoff walk. Naturally, Zane Denton took an 0-2 pitch for a strike without the bat leaving his shoulder, and Kavares Tears grounded out but advanced Dreiling into scoring position. Christian Scott singled down the right-field line to score Dreiling, making it 7-5 Tech. Ethan Payne swung and missed at a full-count pitch to end any semblance of a rally.
Tech countered right back in the 9th with two-straight singles and a Tennessee error that allowed the batter to reach base. A run-scoring single and a two-run double followed, making it 10-5 Tech with just one out in the T9, with all three runs charged to UT’s 10th pitcher of the game, Seth Halvorsen. Vitello pulled Halvorsen for Hollis Fanning, who got the second out of the inning on three-straight strikes. But he allowed an RBI double on the next pitch, adding another run to Tech’s lead. In the end, Tech added five runs on six hits, with a Tennessee error to help things along.
The Vols started to go out with a whimper, when Ensley struck out as the leadoff batter. But Blake Burke singled to follow, and then Dickey struck out swinging. Charlie Taylor followed by striking out swinging on a full-count pitch to end the game.
- This was Tech’s 11th win on the season. They’re 11-24 overall and just completely embarrassed Tennessee at home
- Maui Ahuna wasn’t in the lineup again, and Christian Moore, who has been struggling considerably in SEC play also didn’t play. Reliever Zach Joyce left the game after throwing one pitch in the 6th, with the trainer looking at his elbow/ forearm. That’s likely not good
- Tech had 18 hits to Tennessee’s eight, and the Golden Eagles used four pitchers, while Tennessee used 11
- Five Tech hitters had multi-hit games, while Hunter Ensley and Christian Scott were the only two Vols to have more than one hit (they both had two). Blake Burke, Jared Dickey and Zane Denton combined to go 2-14 at the plate
- Vitello continues to try different lineups and switched the rotation up last weekend, but nothing’s worked. He’s not out there guessing, but whatever he’s doing, he hasn’t made the right move yet. Even though he can’t make pitchers hit their spots, and he can’t make guys swing at strike and not swing at balls, the blame ultimately everything falls on him. Given the past two seasons, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, and I would encourage you to do the same. He’s set an impossibly high standard in the most difficult conference in the country. It’s not easy replacing seven and 10 MLB draft picks in back-to-back seasons
- This looks more and more like what I would call a gap year. Take the lumps this year and come out ready to get back to what Vitello, the fans and the administration expect