Tennessee starter Chase Dollander lasted just three innings after he gave up 5 H, 4 R, and two BB to just 3 Ks, while the offense didn’t get on the scoreboard until the fourth inning.
But the bats raked across two runs in the fourth, four runs in the fifth and the sixth with two more in the seventh, while Camden Sewell tossed 3.1 IP in relief, allowing 0 H, 0 R, two BB and seven Ks as Tennessee came back from the early deficit to beat Mississippi State 12-8 in game two and officially took the series win.
State’s first inning put the Vols in a 3-0 hole early, and it took Christian Moore breaking a four-game, SEC-play hitless streak in the B4 for the Vols to get on the board when the sophomore second baseman smacked a two-run shot that scored Blake Burke, who’d singled prior.
Per UT, Moore’s HR traveled 411 feet with a 106 exit velocity, which makes his struggles this season more frustrating — especially when you pair it with the 10 HR, 36 RBI from his freshman year. Moore’s average is still below .300 for the season and is sitting around .215 (prior to tonight’s game) in SEC games.
Griffin Merritt singled right after, and it looked like the Vols may chip further away at State’s lead. But instead, Zane Denton flew out to leftfield and State doubled up Merritt at first for two outs on one play. A base-running mistake that we’ve been seeing fewer of the last few weeks.
Zander Sechrist pitched just one inning — the fourth, and he struck out two and didn’t allow a hit, run or a walk.
Regardless, Vitello brought out Bryce Jenkins in the fifth, and he gave up 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER and one K but managed just one out before Vitello gave Jenkins the hook in favor of freshman AJ Russell. Russell’s first pitch was a passed ball that advanced the runner inro scoring position. State took advantage and used a sacrifice fly to plate its third run of the frame. Russell got the final out on a liner to shortstop, but State had three hits and three runs and led the game 6-2.
Tennessee’s offense responded in the bottom half of the fifth with a Jared Dickey home run that scored Cal Stark, who’d worked a lead-off walk.
After Stark’s walk to start the inning, Maui Ahuna and Hunter Ensley struck out and flew out, respectively, so the Vols had another inning with some big-time hits with two outs. After Blake Burke took a full-count pitch for a walk, the Vols got back-to-back base hits from Moore and Griffin Merritt, with Moore’s scoring Burke and Merritt bringing home Moore.
Zane Denton struck out to end the two-out rally, but the Vols went from down 7-2 to down just 7-6 after three hits and four runs in B5.
Vitello brought in Seth Halvorsen for the sixth, and he continued to look just not quite right. He gave up a lead-off double, got a flyout on an 0-2 pitch and then gave up a single, which advanced the lead-off runner to third. The batter who singled subsequently stole second, which put two Bulldogs in scoring position with just the one out. Two-hole hitter Colton Ledbetter lined to first, but the runner at third scored when Blake Burke tried to get the double play, going after the runner at second. But instead, Burke threw the ball into the outfield and State plated its first run of the frame.
A walk to the next batter was enough for Vitello, who yanked Halvorsen after he allowed two hits and an unearned run while getting two outs in the process. Camden Sewell came in and struck out the final batter of the frame to limit the damage to just one run.
Once the Vols found their groove at the plate, State seemed doomed, especially after Tennessee took its first lead of the game in the B6.
Christian Scott and Cal Stark drew back-to-back walks to start the inning before Ahuna struck out for the first out of the inning. Next, Hunter Ensley reached on a fielder’s choice, as State got Stark out at second instead of Ensley at first — but MS’s second baseman Armani Larry’s error allowed Scott to score from third.
Jared Dickey got hit by a pitch on the following at bat, and then Blake Burke, who like Christian Moore, hasn’t been himself for much of league play, cleared the bases with a three-run homer off the batter’s eye in center field.
Mississippi State switched pitchers to get Christian Scott as the final out of the inning, but through 7, Tennessee led 10-8, thanks in part to the one hit, four-run sixth.
While Halvorsen didn’t have it, Sewell did. He finished off the sixth and then worked the seventh with no hits, no runs and just one walk allowed.
Via UT’s Twitter account, that pitch had 17 inches of horizontal break, meaning it started out high and inside to the batter, but finished low and outside to miss the bat. The ball broke the across the length of home plate, and as my dad says — you couldn’t hit that with a snow shovel.
After back-to-back four-run frames for the offense in the fifth and sixth, the bats gave Sewell two more insurance runs inning in the B7. After Griffin Merritt grounded out to lead the inning off, Zane Denton took a 1-0 pitch deep over the right-field fence for a solo home run. Christian Scott doubled as the next batter, and Cal Stark made the third-straight base hit of the inning for UT and scored Scott, making it 12-8 Vols going into the eight.
Neither team’s offense made any noise in the eighth, so Sewell went back out in the ninth to finish the job. He struck out the first batter, induced a fly-ball out to second hitter, but then allowed his second walk of the evening and then two-straight balls that brought out Vitello to check on his veteran righty. Sewell answered with three-straight strikes for the game ending strikeout.
The meat of the lineup finally looked like a version of of itself tonight: Batting third, Jared Dickey went 1-3 with a HR, two RBIs and a walk; Blake Burke went 3-4 with a home run, three RBIs and a walk; and the struggling Christian Moore finished his day 2-5 with a home run, two RBIs and a double, with both of his hits going for extra bases. Notably, 11 of the Vols’ 12 runs came with two outs.
Even though we would’ve liked to have seen a better start from Dollander, the bullpen did its job, for the most part. The only real blemishes: Bryce Jenkins’ 0.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER appearance and Seth Halvorsen’s 0.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 0 K performance.
Halvorsen is third on the team in appearances with 15, but his ERA is up near the 4.0-mark. He’s allowed at least one run, if not more, in four of his last five appearances. Both Sewell and Sechrist can fill in that long-relief role, but neither guy has the arm Halvorsen has;. It’s nothing I’m awfully worried about, especially since the run he allowed tonight came via Blake Burke’s error. Fingers crossed he gets his ship righted, because taking Andrew Lindsey from the bullpen to the starting rotation left a pretty big whole in the Vols’ battery of relief pitchers.
The Vols look for their second-straight SEC sweep tomorrow with Drew Beam on the hill, with a scheduled-start time of 2 PM EST.