KODAK, TN— No. 1 Tennessee has had a target on its backs for quite some time, and someone finally hit the bullseye.
The Vols entered Tuesday’s midweek matchup 30-1 on the season and winners of 23 in a row with a chance to tie the SEC’s longest win streak. However, that all ended at Smokies Stadium as the Vols fell at the hands of the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles in a 3-2 loss.
The Vols took the early lead as they were able to string together some baserunners and gain momentum in the third inning, as a Drew Gilbert single brought the first run home. Then Tech shortstop Ed Johnson couldn’t handle a Trey Lipscomb grounder and the second run scored on the error.
From then on it was all Golden Eagles as Tech scored one run in the fifth to close the gap to one. Then in the sixth, Eric Newsom hit a 101 mph Ben Joyce fastball to deep center for a two-run home run that put them up and would end up as the final runs scored for either side.
Tennessee has been a team that has been known for its explosive offense, however that was not the case on Tuesday night. The Vols only strung together four hits in the entire outing and didn’t have a hit after Courtland Lawson singled in the fourth inning. They only had two more reach base and that wasn’t until the bottom of the eighth inning, when Gilbert reached base via a walk. The Vols were unable to touch Tech reliever Carter Gannaway.
Gannaway wasn’t expected to be the hero but it ended up just that way. Gannaway entered Tuesday’s contest with a 9.0 ERA, the fifth worst out of Tennessee Tech’s entire pitching staff. By the end of the night, he had lowered his ERA by over two runs to 6.93.
The junior right handed reliever came in during the bottom of the fourth inning and never came out. He struck out nine Vols in 5.2 innings and allowed no hits. He dominated an offense that is top of the nation in nearly every major category, and handed Tennessee its first loss since March 4th improving his record on the year to 3-2.
The Vols and the Eagles used wood bats while playing at the minor league park. And while that may seem like the reason for Tennessee’s downfall, the Vols’ head coach Tony Vitello believes otherwise.
“If we’d have played with metal bats, we’d have lost 6-5 instead of 3-2,” said Vitello. “We just weren’t very good tonight.”
While it seems weird to call a loss a good thing, this loss may be exactly what Tennessee needed. It is easy for a team to get too comfortable and relaxed in a win streak, so the loss to Tech may very well prove to be a wakeup call to the top-ranked Vols.
However, only time will tell what Tennessee learned from Tuesday night’s loss, and for now they fall to 31-2 on the season.
The Vols will have their chance to bounce back and show what they learned against No. 24 Alabama this weekend with game one on Friday and first pitch scheduled for 6:30 p.m. E.T. at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.