Tennessee scored 17 runs on 11 hits, while starter Chase Dollander went seven innings and allowed just one run on six Vanderbilt hits as the Vols thrashed the Commodores 17-1 to secure their second series win of the year.
The one run Dollander gave up was a first-inning solo shot to Vandy’s three-hole hitter RJ Shreck. Dollander led off by striking out Vandy’s lead-off hitter Enrique Bradfield — a key considering if he gets on first, he’s definitely stealing second and third, likely without much resistance.
Dollander allowed a single after the home run, and it looked like Vanderbilt might be on its way to scoring a couple runs with two outs. Instead, Dollander struck out RJ Austin on three-straight strikes.
On the flip side, the Vols looked like they were on the way toward a zero in the B1 when Maui Ahuna grounded out and Hunter Ensley flew out on a combined seven pitches. Then the flood gates opened up. Tennessee went single, walk, walk, then Kavares Tears smacked an 0-2 pitch down the left-field line for a two-run single and the first two runs of the game for UT.
Zane Denton doubled and scored Christian Moore, who was one of the walks earlier in the frame, and even Cal Stark, who was hitting below .100 in SEC play before today, got in on the action with a two-run single to left field.
The Vols batted around in the first, and on his second opportunity, Maui went wowie and put the exclamation mark on the inning with a bases-clearing, three-run home run that sailed out of the park just right of the batter’s eye in center.
Tennessee wasn’t done, despite putting up eight runs with two outs in the B1, as Hunter Ensley drew a full-count walk and Jared Dickey scored him on a single with a little help from an error on Vandy’s right-fielder that allowed Ensley to get all the way from first to home on a base hit.
Blake Burke struck out to end the first, after walking earlier in the inning, and UT found itself up 9-1 after six combined outs.
Dollander was tested again in the top of the second when he led the inning off with two, four-pitch walks and a double in between. But again, Dollander struck out the next two batters and forced a fly out to end the frame unscathed despite the bases being full of Vandy Boys.
UT’s offense didn’t let up in the second: Christian Moore drew a leadoff walk, then Denton singled to center after a Tears’ strikeout. Cal Stark popped up for an easy infield out, but the Vols rallied with two outs again when Christian Scott nearly cleared the left-center wall for a home run but ended up scoring Moore and Denton on a two-run double.
Maui Ahuna added his second RBI on his third at bat in the B2 with a single to center that brought home the fleet-of-foot Christian Scott. Hunter Ensley got hit by a pitch which advanced Ahuna into scoring position, but Jared Dickey ended the frame with a fly out to center. After two innings, Tennessee led 12-1 and provided some serious run support for Dollander to work with.
Tennessee’s ace from last season allowed hits and/or walks in each of the first three innings but managed to keep Vanderbilt from plating any runs outside the solo shot in the first. He gave up a leadoff double to Schreck in the third, then struck out Commodore cleanup hitter Jac Bulger on 2-2 swinging K. Dollander surrendered a one-out single that let Bulger advance to third. Lil Doe needed four pitches to get the final two outs and once again left Vandy with runners stranded (two).
Blake Burke’s leadoff home run in the B3 made it three -straight innings during which Tennessee scored a run, and though the next three batters didn’t do anything of note, after three frames, the Vols led 13-1.
The bats chased Vandy starter Bryce Cunningham in the first after he gave up eight, two-out runs, and then tagged relief pitcher Sam Hilboki for five hits and five runs in 3.1 IP.
Dollander settled in after working around traffic on the basepaths in the first three innings — in the fourth, he struck out a batter and got the other two outs on a combined seven pitches. Then in the fifth, he needed just six pitches to get three outs.
And in the bottom half of the fifth, the offense decided to step on some throats with four more runs: Vanderbilt went to sophomore and Tennessee native Colton Regen after Hilboki’s considerable lack of success, but the bats showed no mercy for their fellow Tennessean.
Ensley led the inning off with a single, then Jared Dickey drew a four-pitch walk and Christian Moore drew a full-count walk after Burke went down on an infield fly. Moore’s walk loaded the bases, and Kavares Tears got an RBI the hard way when he got hit by a pitch. Zane Denton walked in another run, and then Moore scored on a wild pitch. Christian Scott walked, which loaded the bases again, and Ahuna walked in the fourth and final run of the inning on a full-count ball. The Vols managed four runs with just one hit — Regen walked five batters and had a run scored on him via a wild pitch. Vandy got the third out of the inning with the bases still loaded, so as bad as it was, the bottom of the fifth could have been even worse. Regen’s season ERA went from 6 to 20, with today being his fourth appearance of the year.
In the top of the sixth, Dollander was just breezing through a Vanderbilt lineup that knew it was destined to get run-ruled. He got the first two outs on 11 pitches and then ended the inning on his eighth strikeout on a full-count, 95 MPH fastball up in the zone:
It kinda felt like Friday’s walk-off win had the potential to be a turning point in the season for this Tennessee team. Embarrassing Vanderbilt is always fun, but it’s more fun when it’s been a bit of a struggle through the early part of the schedule and the subsequent run-rule dub secured the series win.
A sweep would be massive for this team and the direction the rest of the season goes. This is still a young team that’s trying to find its way, but sweeping the No. 4 ranked team in the country would do wonders for the players’ confidence.
Lotsa folks have been hard on Maui Ahuna so far this year — batting leadoff today, he went 2-4 with a HR and five RBIs. Then there’s the bottom of the lineup, who I’ve been as critical as anyone on were absolutely critical to the win. Hitter 6-9: Tears, Denton, Stark and Scott combined for five hits in 11 at bats with nine RBIs.
Drew Beam likely starts tomorrow in the series finale with the first pitch scheduled for 1 PM EST.