KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– It was a quiet and peaceful start in No.1 Tennessee’s 9-2 win over No. 24 Alabama on Saturday. At least it was until the third out of the opening frame.
With two strikeouts to open the game, Tennessee’s starting pitcher Chase Dollander was sent to the ground in pain after a comeback line-drive from Alabama’s Zane Denton bounced off the sophomore’s right elbow and into the hands of first baseman Luc Lipcius for the third out.
Vols’ pitching coach Frank Anderson and the trainers came out to check on the pitcher, and Anderson wasn’t pleased with what he heard from the Alabama dugout while his pitcher was on the ground. Third base umpire and crew chief Jeffery Macias immediately walked over to Anderson, tossing him from the game.
Following the ejection, Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello stormed out of the dugout, pointing right at Macias and was immediately tossed before giving Macias a slight chest bump and being escorted back into the dugout.
Tennessee and Macias have a history. Not only was Macias controversial as the umpire at the plate in Friday’s game, but he was also the umpire in Tennessee’s season-ending loss to Texas in the College World Series in 2021, a game that resulted in former Vols’ assistant coach Ross Kivett being ejected and a close play at the plate that allowed Texas to beat Tennessee.
Tennessee had lost two coaches before they even got a chance to hit, but the ejections lit a fire under the Vols that immediately sparked.
After Jorel Ortega reached on a single in the bottom of the first inning, junior Jordan Beck launched a two-run home run to right-center field that gave the Vols an early lead. It was the first of two home runs for Beck in the game who extended his total to nine on the season.
However, the drama didn’t end when Tennessee took the lead.
On Beck’s second home run, Macias issued a warning to Tennessee and banned them from partaking in their iconic “fur coat and daddy hat” celebration at the entrance of the dugout as they have done all season. The ban was put to the test when Lipcius followed Beck with a home run of his own, his 10th of the year, where the Vols performed their celebration deep into the dugout.
Alabama also felt the umpire crew’s wrath as their first base coach Matt Reida was ejected in the fourth inning after exchanging some words with the Tennessee dugout.
For the Vols, however, with being down the top two coaches, it was up to Assistant Coach Josh Elander to take over for the Vols and keep the team focused. And that he did.
Despite a two-run home run from Alabama that cut a three-run lead to two, Tennessee’s offense continued to pressure the Tide. The Vols were able to consistently put runners on base throughout the later innings, which allowed Tennessee to steal third base three times, resulting in three runs from three throwing errors by Alabama catcher Dominic Tamez. The series of steals was a new level of aggressiveness for the Vols that resulted in several key insurance runs and a swing of momentum.
The Vols’ bullpen also kept its foot on the gas and was able to keep Alabama at bay thanks to a phenomenal effort from Camden Sewell who went 4.1 innings in relief of Dollander before being pulled due to a lingering foot injury after taking a line drive to the foot in his first inning of work. Other than the home run, Tennessee’s bullpen held Alabama scoreless and held the lead.
Tensions were already high coming into game two after Alabama took control in game one and Tennessee relief pitcher Will Mabrey made some postgame comments about the Tide celebrating their game one win.
“I think we are going to come back tomorrow hot,” Mabrey said. “They don’t really have a chance in my opinion. They were also partying like they thought they won the World Series. We will let them know how that tastes tomorrow.”
Despite the bad history between Tennessee baseball games and postgame guarantees, the Vols did exactly what Mabrey said they were gonna do, scoring nine runs behind three home runs in an emphatic win.
Both Dollander and Sewell were shown in protective gear following the game. Dollander had a blue sling on his right arm while Sewell wore a boot on his left foot. While both were precautionary moves following the injuries, it is unclear what their health status’ are, and further evaluation is to come before a decision is made.
The most likely outcome is that while Sewell may be able to return to the mound sooner rather than later, Dollander will more than likely miss some time, which would be a huge blow to a Tennessee rotation that has been outstanding so far in 2022. However, with Blade Tidwell finally getting back to full strength, the Vols may have an easy answer to Dollander’s possible absence, as the sophomore right-hander may have to retake a starting role for the Vols.
As for Tennessee’s coaching availability on Sunday, pitching coach Frank Anderson will miss game three against Alabama due to an NCAA rule that states if an assistant coach is ejected, he must miss the following game. As for Vitello, a decision will be made Sunday morning about his availability. If (and probably when) Vitello is issued a suspension, Elander will once again take over as head coach for Tennessee in the series-deciding game.
Sunday’s rubber match will be Tennessee’s first of 2022, meaning all eyes are on freshman standout Drew Beam in a pressure situation to win the series. Beam has been nothing short of outstanding in his first year, winning seven games and holding a 1.14 ERA in 47.1 innings pitched. However, Sunday will be Beam’s first chance to clinch a series for the Vols and show the college baseball world that he is the real deal.
Sunday’s game between Tennessee and Alabama will happen at Lindsey Nelson Stadium with first pitch at 1 p.m. E.T.