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Blake Burke goes 2-5 with a HR, BaseVols bounce back while facing elimination with 8-4 dub against Southern Miss

Happy birthday, Blake Burke!

Tennessee v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

After losing a game one that spanned two days, Tennessee starter Chase Dollander retired 15 of the last 16 hitters he faced while Blake Burke hit a 479-foot, two-run home run — on his birthday — as the Vols bounced back to stave off elimination in game two of the doubleheader and beat Southern Miss 8-4.

Unlike yesterday, it didn’t take Tennessee’s offense until the fourth inning to get its first hit. While USM’s Tanner Hall sat the Vols down in order in the first, Zane Denton reached first base on a one-out error from the Golden Eagles’ first basemen. Griffin Merritt singled, then Blake Burke reached on a fielder’s choice. Christian Scott got hit by a pitch, and Tennessee had the bases loaded against Southern Miss’ best pitcher five outs into the game.

Cal Stark struck out to end the inning, and Hall escaped unscathed, but having the bases juiced, even though Tennessee stranded all three runners, was a good sign for a Vols’ offense that struggled over two days of the game one loss.

Tennessee starter Chase Dollander worked through a lead-off hit and an error from Maui Ahuna in the first and another lead-off hit in the second inning without giving up any runs.

But after Hall sat UT’s one-through-three hitters down in order in the top of the third, USM’s offense found a groove against Dollander. The Golden Eagles’ lead-off hitter Matthew Etzel started the bottom of the frame off with a triple off a 1-0 pitch into center. Dustin Dickerson brought Etzel home with a first-pitch single to give USM the lead 1-0 lead. Three-hole hitter Slade Wilks also laced the first pitch he saw into left, advancing the lead runner to third, which set the table for Christopher Sargernt, USM’s cleanup hitter.

For the third-straight time, a Southern Miss batter swung at the first pitch he saw, and for the third-straight time, he connected. Sargent hit a three-run home run to left-center, and just like that, Tennessee found itself in an early-game deficit as USM ended up plating four runs on four hits after just three frames.

But unlike yesterday, the Vols’ offense responded immediately. Christian Moore led the inning off with a double, but Zane Denton followed with a flyout for the first out of the half inning. Griffin Merritt singled through the right side on an 0-1 pitch and scored Scott to plate Tennessee’s first run of the game.

And then the likely turning point in the game occurred, as Blake Burke connected on 2-2 pitch and quite possibly knocked one of Elon Musk’s satellites out of orbit with a 479-foot home run that left his bat at 113.8 MPH. The broadcast noted that Burke’s home run would be the fourth-farthest hit ball in the MLB, and I don’t doubt it.

It was a whole new ball game now, as after Merritt’s single and Burke’s two-run shot, the Vols trailed by just one run.

Unfortunately for the USM crowd, Tennessee wasn’t done with Tanner Hall yet. A Scott strikeout gave the Golden Eagles two outs, but Stark worked a full-count walk, Maui Ahuna singled through center and Ensley got hit by a pitch to juice the bases. Jared Dickey followed with a ball hit on a rope through centerfield, and the USM CF misplayed the ball for the Golden Eagles second error of the game, allowing all three runners on base to score.

CMo grounded out to end the inning, but not before the Vols scored six runs on five hits and took a 6-4 lead going into the bottom of the fourth.

Now is just as good a time as any to talk about Chase Dollander’s outing, after that four-run third. He gave up one hit in innings four-through-eight (in the fifth), but otherwise sat down the USM hitters, in order, in every other inning. He was absolutely critical to this win, despite the four early runs, with the way he bounced back after the Vols took control of the game in the top of the top of the fourth. I’m usually pretty quick to judge Tony and his decision to leave his starters in, but he unequivocally made the right decision today leaving Lil Doe in as long as he did.

His final line: 8 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 7 Ks.

The offense tacked on two more runs in the top of the fifth when Hall started the inning off by plunking Zane Denton. Merritt hit into a fielder’s choice, which got the Vols’ lead runner at second but kept Tennessee with a runner on the bases. Burke took a 1-2 pitch into centerfield, which put runners at second and third. Christian Scott hit what amounted to a swinging bunt and was out at first, but the Golden Eagles’ defensive struggles popped up again. As the first baseman whipped the ball home, in an attempt to get the runner out and complete the double play, the catcher couldn’t handle the throw and the ball rolled all the way to the backstop giving Merritt and Burke enough time to cross home plate.

All in all, USM got notched with four errors to Tennessee’s one and allowed two unearned runs to the Vols’ zero.

Dollander walked the leadoff batter in the ninth inning and was at 111 pitches, so Vitello brought in Chase Burns to shut this one down. He struck out the first batter, and then got some help from the defense on a game-ending double play.

With the win, the Vols live to play another day, and it’s now a “winner-take-all,” scenario, with game three coming tomorrow. The winner heads to Omaha for the College World Series, and the loser goes home with its season ended.