Tennessee wasted Chase Dollander’s best start of the season — 5.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 13 Ks — and lost the first game of today’s doubleheader against the Gamecocks 6-1.
The former overall No.1-rated player on many MLB mock draft boards was brilliant, giving up just one earned-run on a long ball from SC’s two-hole hitter Brayen Wimmer in the bottom of the first inning. Dollander struck out the leadoff batter, gave up the HR and then struck out two more Gamecocks to end the first.
After the home run to start the game, Dollander struck out the side in the second, too, as he punched out six batters in just two frames of work.
That looked like something with some downward movement on it — maybe a slider or maybe a sinker like the broadcast mentioned, but overall, it was his fastball that overpowered the SC lineup.
Lil Doe’s strikeouts by inning after K’ing six through 2 IP: two in the 3rd, two in the 4th, two in the fifth. Here’s the aforementioned heater — ending the fifth with something high and inside that really tied up the hitter at home plate.
Due to all the games being rescheduled a couple times, both of today’s games were only seven-inning affairs, and so the Gamecocks’ early 1-0 lead was important, as there’s not as many outs in the game for comeback opportunities.
In the top of the fifth, before Dollander struck out his 12 player of the game, the Vols led the inning off with a leadoff double from Zane Denton. Freshman Dylan Dreiling, who got the start in leftfield, flew out but did his job and got Denton to third base.
Christian Scott tied the game four pitches later with his 13th extra-base hit of the season on a double to right that may have left the yard at LNS.
Tennessee went three-up, three-down in the top of the sixth, and Dollander came out as he was at around the 70-75 pitch-mark and had struck out every Gamecock starter already in the contest.
Dollander’s 13th and final strikeout of the game came off SC’s leadoff batter of the inning — on just three pitches — but Braylen Wimmer followed with a single to center and had the only two Gamecock hits for the game.
Vitello, a bit surprisingly, pulled Dollander with one out and one on in the next to last inning of the game. Tony brought in Chase Burns, All-American starter turned extremely effective closer, which made the decision more palatable.
But the decision backfired, as SC’s three-hole hitter Cole Messina stepped up to the plate sitting on the fastball he expected Burns would throw as his first pitch of the game. Messina guessed correctly and ripped a liner down to the hot corner. Denton wasn’t able to make the play, which, if he had, could have turned into a double play, but instead the ball ended up in leftfield.
From there, things got much worse. SC’s Ethan Petry singled to left, and Dreiling bobbled the play in the outfield, pushing across the run that gave the Gamecocks the lead. A run-scoring single came next, then a two-run double. A passed ball moved the runner to third, and another base hit to center scored the nail-in-the-coffin 5th run of the half-inning.
All in all, South Carolina tagged Burns for 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER in just 26 pitches against six batters.
Vitello eventually pulled Burns, and Bryce Jenkins got the final out via K on four pitches.
The Vols obviously had a chance in the bottom of the 7th, but Christian Moore, Denton and Dreiling struck out to end the game.
Tennessee’s hitters managed just three hits and one run off Gamecock pitchers Jack Mahoney and Nick Proctor. Mahoney’s line: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB and 9 Ks.
Eight of the 11 UT hitters who made it into the batter’s box went hitless, and four guys struck out at least twice. The Vols’ 1-4 batters — Maui Ahuna, Hunter Ensley, Blake Burke and Griffin Merritt combined to go 0-10 at the plate. Tennessee made two errors to SC’s zero, and the Vols stole zero bases against three base swipes from South Carolina.
The offense seemed to come to life a bit in the rubber match during the second game of the day, with Vitello tweaking the batting order a bit.
Burke took advantage of his first time in the lead-off spot with a single in the first, though Gamecock starter Matthew Becker sat the next three Vols down without allowing a run to cross.
Vols’ starter Drew Beam sat the top of SC’s lineup down in order in the B1, and didn’t run into trouble until the bottom of the second, when he walked two-straight batters to lead off the half inning. Beam got some help from the defense as a chopper to third ended up as a much-needed double play:
Becker returned the favor in the top of the third when he walked Cal Stark and Maui Ahuna to start UT’s half of the frame. But then Becker got the next three batters out on 10 pitches, and Tennessee stranded two runners that kept it a scoreless tie after 3.5 innings.
Beam gave up a lead-off single in the fourth, but a sacrifice fly, a grounder to Burke at first and a pop-up out ended the third inning without any damage done.
Going into the T4, the Vols already had more baserunners than they had in the game earlier in the day, and it happened to be the frame when UT’s offense opened the game up. Merritt reached on an error to lead off, then a first-pitch single from Christian Moore gave Tennessee two runners on with no outs. Zane Denton singled to shallow center and scored Merritt for the game’s first run,
Denton and Moore both advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch, then Christian Scott reached first on SC’s second error of the inning that also scored Moore. Cal Stark struck out on three pitches for the inning’s first out, then Maui Ahuna (out of the nine-spot in the batting order) cleared the bases with a double down the left-field line. The Gamecock outfielder had some trouble fielding the ball in the left corner of the park, which gave Christian Scott enough time to score from first base.
After Burke flew out for the second out of the inning, Hunter Ensley took a four-pitch walk, and Ahuna advanced to third on a wild pitch. Jared Dickey flew out, too, when he went after the first pitch he saw that ended the inning. But Tennessee had already taken control of the game with three hits, four runs, thanks in part to the two South Carolina errors.
Cole Messina took Beam deep to start the B4, and then Ethan Petry singled right after. It seemed like maybe some trouble was brewing.
But Beam bounced back immediately as he struck out three-straight Gamecocks to strand one chicken on base and limit the damage to just one run.
That’s the Drew Beam we saw last year — he doesn’t have quite the overpowering stuff that Burns or somebody like Seth Halvorsen, but Beam stayed in the low-to-mid 90s and you noticed Cal Stark rarely moving his glove to catch the pitch from where he’d set up at. That’s a good sign. 4-1 Vols after four innings.
South Carolina tried changing pitchers, but in the T5, Griffin Merritt took SC reliever James Hicks deep to right-field on the first pitch for his team-leading 17th homer of the year.
TN didn’t do anything with the still-intact three outs that remained, but Merritt’s home run pushed Tennessee’s lead out to 5-1.
Beam needed seven pitches to get through the bottom half of the sixth with three ground-ball outs to keep Carolina from responding and keep the Vols up four runs.
In the T6, Cal Stark took one ball then hit his fifth home run of the year, making it three-straight innings in which UT scored at least one run.
Again, Tennessee didn’t do anything with the rest of its chances in the half inning, as Ahuna and Burke flew out and Ensley grounded out to end the Vols’ half of the frame. Either way, Stark’s shot made it a 6-1 game with just six outs remaining for SC.
Three-hole hitter Braylen Wimmer doubled into right-center to welcome Beam into the bottom of the sixth, then after a fly out, Ethan Petry singled to left and advanced Wimmer to third with just one out. Beam bounced back by striking out five-hole hitter Gavin Casas and got the final out on a fielder’s choice that became a force-out on Petry at second base.
Beam’s final line: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks and 10 ground-ball outs. That’s the Drew Beam Tennessee needs to make a run in the postseason.
The Gamecocks changed pitchers again before the T7, and again it didn’t work out as planned. Dickey doubled to left on the second pitch he saw to get things rolling for a few more insurance runs.
Merritt took two strikes then singled to left, advancing Dickey to third in the process. Griff advanced to second on SC’s third wild pitch of the game, then Denton brought Dickey home on a sac fly. Things really got out of control after that when Christian Moore drew a full-count walk, and Christian Scott caught a breaking ball and pulled it way over the RF fence for a three-run home run.
Scott’s seventh long ball of the year made it a 10-1 game, and it’s worth noting how much the senior has turned his season around. Before today’s game, Scott had already raised his league-play average to .301 for third-best on the team.
The Vols weren’t done: Stark drew a walk next, then Ahuna hit his second double of the day out of the bottom spot in the batting order. Burke popped up for the second out of the inning, then Kavares Tears took a full-count walk, which loaded the bases.
SC walked Dreiling and Austin Jaslove on five pitches each, with both free passes pushing runs across home plate. Christian Moore struck out with the bases loaded, but the game had become well out of reach by that point. The Vols went for six runs on four hits against three different South Carolina pitchers to extend the lead to 12-1.
Vitello brought out freshman AJ Russell to finish out the game, and he showed the stuff that’s made him one of the Vols’ best bullpen options. He came into the game with a 1.0 ERA (second on the team to Hollis Fanning who only has 1.2 IP) in eight appearances through 9 IP during SEC play. Russell struck out the side on 18 pitches to end the game.
- The Vols pulling out the win in the second game was huge for a variety of reasons: The starting pitching this weekend provides some hope that maybe Dollander and Beam can get right, at the right time. With Andrew Lindsey’s performance in game one — the Vols starters might just be catching fire at the right time. The series also ended up with two road wins, whereas the Vols were just 1-11 prior. Tennessee will have to find a way to win games away from its home stadium
- I don’t know if it was SC’s pitching depth that helped the Vols run away with the series finale, but today was a good example of what makes this team frustrating at times. It wasted Chase Dollander’s best start of the year, and then put up 12 runs and helped Beam earn his team-leading seventh win of the season in a game that happened less than an hour after the first one ended.
- The bottom of the lineup carried UT to the series win in the second half of the doubleheader: Ahuna went 2-3 with two RBIs, two doubles and a walk in the nine spot; Cal Stark had just one hit — a home run — in two at-bats, but he drew two walks; Scott and Denton, in slots eight and seven, respectively, accounted for half the team’s RBIs in game two
- In the second game, it was SC that got nipped by the error bug with two in one half inning, while the Vols played an error-free game in series clincher
We’ll have to see how the seeding all shakes out, but taking two of three in Columbia puts Tennessee’s final SEC record at 16-14. I think most fans would have taken a lost series if UT coulda came out with one win, but taking the series against the third-ranked team in the league is a great way to end the regular season. It puts the Vols in a tie with Kentucky, but the Vols own the tiebreaker thanks to their 2-1 series win last weekend.