For the second-straight week, Griffin Merritt hit a game-winning, walk-off home run in game one of the weekend series as the Vols beat Mississippi State 8-7 Thursday night.
Tennessee started Andrew Lindsey, and he battled through runners on base for most of his outing.
In the top of the first, he gave up a lead-off single, that batter stole second, then Lindsey tossed out back-to-back free passes. A fielding error from Maui Ahuna let Bulldog cleanup hitter Dakota Jordan reach safely and plated leadoff hitter David Mershon.
But then Lindsey struck out the next two batters swinging and got the final out on a pop up on a 2-0 count. The Bulldogs had the bases loaded with no outs and managed just one run.
Tennessee’s offense responded quickly and emphatically, with three-straight base hits from Maui Ahuna — who advanced to second on a wild pitch —, Hunter Ensley and then Jared Dickey.
B1 | That didn't take long!— Tennessee Baseball (@Vol_Baseball) April 27, 2023
Dickey makes it three straight hits to start the ballgame and Tennessee is on the board with runners on the corners and still no outs!#GBO // #OTH // #BeatState pic.twitter.com/mdLSi6rryS
Dickey’s basehit scored Ahuna and then he got to second base on another wild pitch, this one scored Ensley from third. Blake Burke drew a full-count walk, and then the Vols’ runners advanced on another wild pitch from State starter Cade Smith during a Christian Scott strikeout — the first out for the Bulldogs of the inning.
Freshman Dylan Dreiling brought Dickey home on a grounder to first, and then Zane Denton brought Blake Burke home for the Vols’ fourth and final run of the frame. Four runs on four hits for UT in the B1, with a little help from Cade Smith’s four wild pitches.
After giving up the run in the first, Lindsey dealt with traffic on the bases in every inning except the fifth, when he sat State’s two, three and four hitters down in order.
Tennessee’s offense put up zeros in the second, third and fourth innings, too, but then popped off for three more runs in the B5 against Bulldog reliever Tyson Hardin. Dylan Dreiling drew a one-out walk, then Zane Denton flew out for the second out of the inning. But the bats have been so much better recently with two outs, and Cal Stark kicked off another two-out rally with a double to left that put runners on the corners for Christian Scott.
Scott came through with a single to left field that scored Dreiling and Cal Stark, thanks to a bobble on the transfer from Bulldogs’ left fielder Dakota Jordan.
Maui Ahuna, back in the lead-off, spot doubled to right, which was plenty enough bat to bring home Scott.
The Vols ended the fifth with three runs on three hits and ended Hardin’s night with just the one inning pitched.
Down 7-1 going into the T6, State finally brought home some hits against Lindsey — five-hole hitter but leadoff batter of the inning Kellum Clark singled and stole second before Slate Alford took Lindsey deep for a two-run home run. Lindsey managed two outs before Vitello brought Kirby Connell in to get the final out via strikeout.
Tennessee’s offense did nothing in the bottom of the sixth, and the Vols went into the seventh up 7-2. Connell gave up a leadoff home run, and Vitello turned to RS sophomore Aaron Combs.
Combs started off well by getting the first two outs in 10 pitches, but then he hit a batter, walked the next and finally gave up a two-run double to center field, making it a 7-6 game with UT clinging to a one-run lead.
Vitello decided to go ahead and give the ball to Burns, who got the final out of the inning on a 1-2 swinging strikeout with a gnarly slider (I think...).
Tennessee’s offense went three-up, three-down in the B7, but Burns returned the favor by striking out the first batter of the T8 and then getting flyouts from the next two.
In the bottom of the sixth, State brought in reliever Tyler Davis and he mowed through innings six and seven without allowing a hit. In the B8, he struck out Ahuna to lead off the inning and then got Ensley out on a fly ball. But with two outs, Dickey reached on a play that was scored an error but could have been scored a hit, and then Blake Burke drew a walk on a 3-1 count. Davis’ work tonight dropped his ERA to 9.50 for the year.
State went to another reliever with a double-digit ERA in KC Hunt, and Hunt struck out Christian Moore swinging on a 1-2 pitch, leaving two runners stranded and one in scoring position. Those would have been nice insurance runs for Burns.
Instead, Burns gave up the game-tying home run on the second pitch of the T9. Burns got a pop up and two strikeouts to limit the damage to just one.
Then, once again, Griffin Merritt ended the game on a walk-off home run as he took Hunt deep to straight-away center, way over the batter’s eye in the deepest part of the ball park on a 1-0 count.
If you’ll remember, it was Merritt who ended last week’s game one against Vanderbilt with a walk-off home run, too. I’d make a Lil Wayne reference with Merritt here, but it’s likely to miss the target demo of this site. But if you know, you know.
Chase Burns gets the win with a final line of 2.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 Ks, and Andrew Lindsey did his job, getting the Vols far enough into the game so that they didn’t have to throw a bunch of bullpen arms in game one. His final line: 5.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 3 Ks.
It’s likely to be Chase Dollander for game two tomorrow, with the first pitch scheduled for 6:30 PM EST.