By Joseph Bonanno
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– Tennessee answered a lot of preseason questions in its opening weekend sweep of Georgia Southern.
Outscoring the Eagles 33-3 in three games not only showed the offensive capabilities of Tony Vitello’s team, but also the pitching comforts as well.
On Friday night, freshman Chase Burns got the starting nod and turned in a stellar collegiate debut tossing five innings, allowing only two hits, one walk, and five strikeouts. On Saturday, transfer from Georgia Southern Chase Dollander threw five innings, striking out 11 batters while facing his old squad. And on Sunday, freshman Drew Beam went three innings and started the Vols second shutout of the weekend.
With standout sophomore pitcher Blade Tidwell and transfer Seth Halvorsen stuck on the sideline after preseason injuries, seeing positive results from a young group of starting pitchers is exactly what Vitello needed to start the season.
“That’s a first for Coach Anderson and I to ever have two freshmen to start an opening weekend on the mound,” said Vitello following the team’s 14-0 win on Sunday.
The bullpen also showed out this weekend. Senior righty Camden Sewell looked like the most efficient pitcher all weekend, tossing four scoreless innings. Kirby Connell and Will Mabrey also tossed several clean innings to help close out the Vols’ sweep.
On the offensive side of the ball some old faces with their first playing time were the stars of the show. Second baseman Jorel Ortega was the clear offensive MVP, going 5 for 10 with two home runs and five RBIs. Senior third baseman Tre Lipscomb opened the weekend going 3 for 4 with a homerun.
After a slow start on Friday, sophomore Drew Gilbert stole the show on Saturday by hitting a late game grand slam, and added on two more RBIs in Sunday’s game. Junior Jordan Beck, the preseason All-American, found his groove on Sunday going 3 for 3 and driving in two runs.
“I talked to some fans… and their question was if we were gonna be able to hit as good as last year’s team,” said the Vols’ leadoff hitter Seth Stephenson. “I think we are and I think we showed that this weekend.”
With the Vols looking to build off last year’s success, an opening weekend sweep was the perfect way to start the 2022 season. And with questions about the young pitching staff and new lineups answered for now, we can all officially say that Tennessee baseball is back.