Tennessee’s Freshman Shines as the Vols Sweep South Carolina to Open SEC Play

Photo Credit: Tennessee Athletic Communications
By Joseph Bonanno

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– On a team full of juniors and seniors, it was a freshman that showed out in No. 2 Tennessee’s series sweep over South Carolina with a 10-0 win on Sunday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Vols’ freshman right-hander, Drew Beam, was nothing short of incredible on Sunday. Beam was playing for a perfect game through six innings, retiring 18 straight batters before South Carolina’s Brandt Belk launched a deep double to center field that was nearly caught by Tennessee junior outfielder, Drew Gilbert.

Beam ended his outing with an impressive stat line of 7.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 K on 86 pitches (67 strikes) in his first career SEC start.

Tennessee’s Sunday starter position was in question early after sophomore pitcher Blade Tidwell was ruled out with an injury before the 2022 season started. However, Beam has quickly cemented his role as the Vols’ day three guy posting a 1.09 ERA and a 4-0 record in five starts.

The production and success from a day three freshman pitcher is a familiar thing to Vols’ coach Tony Vitello, as Tidwell was in a similar role during his freshman season one year ago.

“Blade was very professional in how he would go about his routines,” Vitello said. “(Drew Beam and Chase Burns) are very similar in that fashion. They want to be great…and not every kid wants to be great and thinks they can be great. That’s a valuable asset.”

Beam set the tone of the game and Vols’ senior catcher Evan Russell understood how big that was for Tennessee.

“He was as composed as I’ve ever seen a freshman,” Russell said. “Most of the time whenever freshman are coming in to pitch in an SEC game, especially the first one, it’s usually tense. To see him come in and be composed like that…it was really impressive.”

This was Tennessee’s first one-hitter in SEC play since Luke Hochevar threw a complete-game one-hitter on Mar. 18, 2005 in a 2-1 win at Auburn.

On the offensive side of the ball, it was a uncharacteristically slow start from one of the country’s most lethal offenses. However, that only lasted about two and a half innings after freshman designated hitter Christian Moore broke the scoreless tie for the Vols with a missile of a solo home run to left, the first of two solo shots in the third inning for Tennessee with the other coming from Russell.

The game broke open for the Vols in the sixth inning after Gilbert hit a 2-RBI double and Trey Lipscomb launched 440-foot 2-run home run. Lipscomb has a team-leading nine home runs and 36 RBIs.

Tennessee would go on to add four more runs courtesy of a Jordan Beck 2-RBI double and a Russell 2-run home run, his second of the day and third of the series, bringing the team total to 10 on the weekend and 56 on the year.

The Vols come out of the series against the Gamecocks ranked first nationally in several offensive categories: home runs, hits, batting average, slugging percentage, doubles, etc. The production comes from a team that lost Liam Spence, Max Ferguson, Connor Pavolony, and Jake Rucker to the MLB Draft. Vitello has simply reloaded his lineup and picked up from where the 2021 Vols left off.

Tennessee’s offense isn’t the only part of Vitello’s team that is shining nationally. The trio of young starters in freshman Chase Burns, sophomore Chase Dollander, and Beam have more than impressed with a combined 11-0 record and 1.67 ERA so far this season. And Tennessee’ pitching is only set to get better with Tidwell and transfer pitcher Seth Halvorsen set to return to the rotation before the end of the year.

Tennessee has impressed so far, showing that it is a complete team that can compete with the rest of the country. The Vols have swept every weekend series with a single opponent, and four of the five weekends in total to amass a 19-1 record. However, the road doesn’t get any easier for Vitello and the Vols.

UT is set to have a challenging next two weekends on the road against two top-five teams in No. 1 Ole Miss and No. 4 Vanderbilt, as the Vols look to solidify a spot as on of the country’s premiere baseball programs.