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Vols’ baseball game recap: Tennessee takes game two against Kentucky, 10-7, secures series victory

A wild ride

Texas A&M v Tennessee Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

Tennessee’s offense put up four-spots in the second and fourth innings, while starter Chase Dollander went five innings and allowed just three runs as the Vols beat the Kentucky Wildcats 10-7 in game two of the weekend series.

The Vols were up 8-1 after four inning and managed to hold onto the win thanks to a 2.2 IP save from Chase Burns in which he gave up just two hits, one walk and struck out five batters to nail down the series victory.

UT built its lead starting in the bottom half of the second inning, when Blake Burke led things off with a walk. Then Christian Moore, Zane Denton and Griffin Merritt smacked back-to-back-to-back singles, with Merritt plating Burke and Denton scoring Moore. Credit Burke here with a nice slide into home on a bang-bang play at the plate:

After a Christian Scott bunt and with the bases loaded, Maui Ahuna joined the party with his own bouncing single that meandered its way into left-field and scored two more runs.

The Vols turned a lead-off walk into five hits and four runs, though Hunter Ensley grounded into a double play to end the inning one pitch later.

Chase Dollander had already worked through a bit of a rough inning in the first, when UK’s lead-off hitter singled but then got picked off at first. The next hitter reached on a Dollander error, but Chase rebounded with his first strikeout of the game. After Ryan Waldschmidt was safe at first from the error, and after Dollander struck out UK’s three-hole hitter Hunter Gilliam, Waldschmidt had a field day on the base paths. He stole second and third consecutively, and UK had a chance to cut into Tennessee’s lead with two outs and a man 90 feet from home plate.

But Dollander rose to the occasion and brought the high-heat to strike out cleanup hitter Emilien Pitre:

You just gotta love the emotion from Dollander after the strikeout — it’s part of that edge that this team has to play with to win games.

Dollander gave up a two-out single in the top of the second but needed just four pitches to induce an inning-ending groundout.

Once Tennessee drove in four runs in the bottom of the second, Dollander had a cushion, but in the top of the third, he gave up his team-leading 11th home run of the year (four more than he allowed all of last season) to the Wildcats’ first batter of the inning, nine-hole hitter Grant Smith. With the top of the lineup coming back around, Dollander settled in and struck out Josh Gray looking and got a pop-up out from Waldschmidt and a ground-out from Gilliam to limit the damage to just one run.

In the bottom of the fourth, the bats got rolling again, but all four eventual runs came with two outs. UK’s Austin Strickland was the third pitcher the Cats had gone to through the first three innings, and he ended up being the only Wildcat hurler to throw more than 1.1 IP. He’d already quieted the Tennessee bats in the bottom of the third, when he allowed a one-out single to Burke but needed just eight pitches to sit the Vols down with a zero on the scoreboard.

He got a first-pitch flyout from Zane Denton to start the fourth, and struck out Christian Scott looking on a full-count. But then the trouble started.

Tennessee once again strung a couple singles together — first from Cal Stark and then one from Ahuna. Ensley reached on a fielder’s choice, and the bases were juiced for Tennessee’s best hitter right now — Jared Dickey. Dickey didn’t disappoint, taking the first offering from Strickland, a hanging breaking ball, deep over the fence in right-center for a grand slam.

Dickey’s second grand slam of the season left the park at 100 MPH and traveled 374 feet before nearly lasering through the scoreboard.

So once again, the Vols found themselves with another relatively comfortable lead after tagging Strickland for three hits and four runs to make it an 8-1 game.

Dollander led the fifth off with a walk but bounced back with two of his five strikeouts on the day, and the Vols retained that 8-1 lead after five frames.

In the T6, though, things got rocky. Dollander gave up his only walk of the day to Waldschmidt to lead the inning off. Then Kentucky’s three-and-four hitters cracked back-to-back doubles, with Emilien Pitre’s shot clearing the bases and ending Dollander’s day.

Vitello went to Camden Sewell out of the bullpen, and even though Sewell’s got a 4-0 record on the year, he’s not had the season I think many Vol fans were hoping for when he announced he was coming back after last season. The 2023 preseason second-team All-American (from Collegiate Baseball News) only has 10 appearances on the year, his ERA is 4.76 and he leads the team in hit batters (eight).

Sewell got some help right off the figurative bat, when a bunt attempt got pulled back, and Pitre got caught in a rundown between second and third:

But then Sewell gave up back-to-back singles, and Kentucky had two men on with just one out. Sewell managed the second out on a flyball, but then James McCoy, the eighth hitter in the Cats’ lineup, took a 0-2 pitch down the line in left for a two-run double. Sewell got another flyball-out to end the inning, but Kentucky put up three runs on five hits and Tennessee found itself in another game that got interesting late after being up by multiple runs earlier in the contest.

The Vols stranded a runner in the B6 when Strickland hit Cal Stark with a pitch with one out in the half inning, but Ahuna and Ensley failed to get him around to score.

The Wildcats weren’t done with Sewell yet, either. Leadoff hitter Jackson Gray singled to left on the second pitch of the inning and then stole second base. Sewell struck out Waldschmidt on three pitches, but then gave up a five-pitch walk to Gilliam. Pitre took the second pitch he saw down the left-field line for a run-scoring double, and Vitello gave Sewell the hook and brought in Chase Burns, who didn’t pitch last weekend due to some soreness that was mostly just a precautionary measure, according to Vitello’s comments after last week’s series loss to Georgia.

Burns, maybe a little rusty, came in and threw a wild pitch that scored Gilliam and advanced Pitre to third base. Pitre scored four pitches later on a Jase Felkner single. Felker stole second, then Burns got a swinging strikeout and Felkner stole third, too.

Burns ended the inning on another swinging strikeout, when he hit UK catcher Devin Burkes with the gnarly slider:

But in back-to-back innings, the Cats put up three runs each, and a seven-run lead had dwindled down to just one run.

Kentucky took Strickland out of the game in the bottom of the seventh, and Tennessee led the inning off with a Dickey single on an 0-2 pitch. Burke singled and got Dickey all the way to third base. Christian Moore reached on a fielder’s choice, but UK got Dickey out at third on the play. Vitello brought in freshman Dylan Dreiling to pinch hit for Griffin Merritt, since Kentucky had subbed a right-handed pitcher in and Merritt’s a right-handed hitter. I know matchups and all that, but taking out arguably the second-best hitter on the team, who also happens to be a graduate transfer, for the first-year player Dreiling took some stones.

It paid off, as Dreiling worked a full-count walk, and Zane Denton lifted the first pitch he saw into the wall in left field for a two-run double.

Scott struck out and Stark lined out to end the inning, but Denton’s double gave Burns all the insurance runs he needed,

Burns walked the lead-off batter in the T8 and then struck out UK’s last hitter in the order, Grant Smith, on three pitches and followed that by striking out Kentucky’s leadoff hitter on a 2-2 pitch that froze Jackson Gray with the bat on his shoulder. Waldschmidt’s first hit of the game was a single on a 1-2 pitch that advanced the first batter of the inning to third base. But Denton helped his pitcher out with a web gem at third to end the inning, stranding two Cats on base and maintaining Tennessee's lead at three runs.

Credit Burke here, too, with the scoop on Denton’s throw. That throw coulda ended up in the dugout.

Burns needed just six pitches in the ninth to get to fly-ball outs and his fifth strikeout to end the game.

Dollander got his sixth win of the season today, but it’s been an overall disappointing season for the Perfect Game’s 2023 preseason Pitcher of the Year and the preseason first team All-American from just about every one of the numerous college baseball media outlets.

But then there’s Chase Burns, who got his first save today and has been sparkling since his move to the bullpen. Until he develops his secondary pitches, the bullpen is likely the best use of his talents. It’s hard to get by as a starter with just two reliable pitches, even with the slider being so devastating.

UT goes for the sweep tomorrow with Drew Beam surely getting the ball for the 1 PM first pitch. If the Vols pull off the sweep, that would put their SEC record at 15-12, with the only remaining series at No. 6 South Carolina — a team that’s maybe reeling a bit after getting swept by Kentucky two weeks ago, losing a midweek game to North Florida and then losing the first game of its weekend series against Arkansas on Friday. The Gamecocks bounced back with a 3-1 win today and plays for the series win tomorrow.

The trouble with all that is Tennessee has been notoriously bad away from LNS Field this season, posting a 2-11 mark in away games.