Tennessee starter Andrew Lindsey struck out 10 and retired 12 batters in a row from innings two-through-six, while Jared Dickey, Griffin Merritt and Christian Moore combined for eight hits, six RBIs and two home runs in the Vols 8-1 win against Charlotte Friday night.
Lindsey started things off with one of the weirdest half-innings I’ve seen. He threw a full-count walk to Charlotte leadoff hitter Blake Jackson. Lindsey tried a couple back-door curves at the top of the zone and the ump made it apparent the strike zone was gonna be tight. Lindsey proceeded to strike out the next batter on three pitches but followed that with a questionable hit-by-pitch that maybe glanced off three-hole hitter Cam Fisher’s helmet.
Lindsey struck out the next hitter on a full-count, swinging strikeout but then gave up a single to five-hole batter Brandon Stahlman that loaded the bases. I usually don’t worry when Lindsey’s working with traffic on the bases, because he typically works out of the jam. And he did just that — striking out his third batter of the inning with the bases loaded on a 2-2 fastball. One hit, no runs, three men stranded for Charlotte to begin the game.
Tennessee’s bats immediately pulled through with some run support that all started with a four-pitch leadoff walk for Maui Ahuna. Hunter Ensley and Jared Dickey flew out consecutively on four pitches, but a Griffin Merritt single set the table for a Christian Moore double roped into right-center and had enough on it to score Ahuna and Merritt.
Blake Burke grounded out to end the inning — hitting sixth in the lineup tonight for the first time. It’s been an interesting dynamic with Moore and Burke, whereas Burke started strong and Moore started slow, but now Burke has become a near non-factor and Moore is one of the best hitters on the team right now.
Lindsey gave up a one-out single in the T2, but managed his fourth K to Spencer Nolan that literally went right down the heart of the plate. It took Lindsey 12 pitches to get out of the second without allowing a run and stranding Charlotte’s fourth base runner of the game.
Tennessee popped off for two more in the B2 when Christian Scott struck out but managed to reach first on a passed ball. Cal Stark got hit by a pitch, and Ahuna singled through the middle to score Scott. One batter later, Jared Dickey slapped the first pitch he saw to right and plated Stark. Two runs, two hits, two stranded, but Vols led 4-0 after just two frames.
Things didn’t get any better for Charlotte from there. Lindsey cruised through the T3 in 10 pitches and K’d his fifth batter of the contest.
Christian Moore struck again in the bottom half of the third when might as well have used a sand wedge to lift a pitch way low in the zone and still managed to send it out of the park at 107 MPH to right-center for his 14th dinger of the season. To borrow from the SEC, with Christian, it just means Moore.
The power in the swing to take that pitch out of the park that far and that fast is, to the opposite field... just loco.
At this point, Lindsey was just breezing through Charlotte’s order. In the T4, he faced hitters 5-7 and struck out his sixth batter while finishing with another 10-pitch half-inning. No hits, no runs, no errors.
The Vols blew the game open in the B4 on Charlotte’s second pitcher of the game, Paxton Thompson. Thompson actually started out the inning well with a Stark K and an Ahuna flyout. But just like in the first and the second inning, when UT plated three two-out runs, the Vols added two-out RBIs four, five and six off Griffin Merritt’s 18th home run of the year. Hunter Ensley singled on the first pitch he saw, Jared Dickey slapped a 2-2 pitch into right for another single, and then Merritt unloaded on a low and inside pitch that he pulled way into the seats in left.
⚠️ be on alert in the outfield porches when Griffin Merritt is hitting ⚠️— Tennessee Baseball (@Vol_Baseball) June 2, 2023
Griff launches his 18th homer of the year, this one a 3-run shot to make it 8-0 Vols!
https://t.co/5IxkIXygwU#GBO // #OTH // #BeatCLT pic.twitter.com/HzdhTpQIHr
It was more of the same in the T5 for Charlotte — Lindsey started the half-frame off with his seventh strikeout against Charlotte’s eighth batter in the lineup and got a flyout and a groundout to end another inning without allowing a baserunner.
Charlotte brought out its third pitcher of the game for the bottom half of the fifth — Clark’ Dearman — and he got Denton, Scott and Stark out for the first zero on Tennessee's scoreboard.
In the T6, Lindsey must have become human again instead of a pitching machine, because he gave up his first hit since the second frame. He’d retired 12 in a row before Cam Fisher managed a one-out single to the right side of the field on a 2-1 count. It didn’t matter anyway, since Lindsey induced a fielder’s choice to Charlotte cleanup hitter Jake Cunningham that enabled the Vols’ infield to get the lead runner at second. Lindsey finished the half-frame with his eighth strikeout on a 1-2 count with the bat never leaving the hitter’s shoulder.
The bottom half of the sixth started with another Ahuna strikeout and an Ensley flyout. It looked like the Vols might rally with two outs again when Dickey and Merritt slapped back-to-back singles. But Christian Moore grounded out to third to end what coulda been another two-out rally.
Charlotte got its second base runner past first since the first inning when former Vol Austin Knight touched up Lindsey for a two-out home run. In perfect fashion, Lindsey came right back and struck out his 10th batter of the game to end the top half of the seventh.
Lindsey’s final line: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB. He threw 116 pitches, 75 of which were strikes. This is the kind of starting pitching the Vols have to have to make a run to Omaha. His last outing against South Carolina, he went 8.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 5 K, 0 BB.
The offense put up its third-straight zero in the bottom of the seventh as Charlotte’s fourth pitcher of the game, Hale Sims, sat down Burke, Denton and Scott on eight pitches.
Vitello brought out Zander Sechrist for the top of the eighth, and he lasted just eight pitches. He got a flyout to the leadoff batter but then walked the next on five pitches. Tony yanked him and brought in Aaron Combs, whose mustache helped power him to a strikeout and a foul-ball flyout to end the inning.
Vitello let Hollis Fanning, who leads the team with a zero ERA in SEC play (just three appearances and 1.2 IP), finish the game out. Fanning allowed a hit and a wild pitch, but still got the final two outs to finish out the game.
Tennessee moves on to face Clemson, who beat Lipscomb 12-5 today to move on to the next round. The Vols have a tall task in front of them, as Clemson is hosting this regional and will be playing what amounts to a home game. It’s also 44-17 on the season and went 20-10 in league play. And oh yeah — the Tigers are the No. 3 ranked team in the country.
Chase Dollander gets the ball tomorrow at 6 PM EST. The Vols really need last year’s Dollander to show up as he’s got a 5.05 ERA in SEC play this season and a 3-5 record in 10 starts. That likely won’t get it done against this Clemson team.
But we’ll see.