KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– It was a rocky start for the unanimous No. 1 Tennessee in game one against Missouri.
Despite trailing by two runs, the Vols (29-1, 10-0 SEC) were able to extend their win streak to 21 consecutive games after an 8-3 comeback win over the Tigers on Friday night.
With the win, Tennessee tied the 1994 Florida team for the best start in SEC play, adding to its list of accomplishments and records collected in 2022. However, achieving that 10th straight SEC win came with its struggles.
Tennessee freshman right-hander Chase Burns struggled early in this game, giving up four walks in 2.2 innings of work. Although Burns did record five strikeouts, a Missouri two-run home run in the first inning became the biggest blemish on the young star’s season, becoming Burns’ third home run given up in 2022.
However, it was Tennessee’s bullpen that held out against the Tigers as the Vols climbed their way back from a two-run deficit.
A combination of seven different arms came out of the bullpen, collecting 11 strikeouts and only giving up a single run.
The bullpen’s effort started with junior left-hander Will Mabrey, who came into the game in the third inning with a bases-loaded jam and used only one pitch to escape it. Mabrey then found himself in another jam in the fourth before striking out the side and holding the Tigers’ lead to just two.
Despite the rest of the bullpen’s success, it was Tennessee’s sophomore standout Blade Tidwell that made the biggest splash. Tidwell came into eighth inning for his first appearance in SEC play in 2022, however, he didn’t appear to be fazed and proceeded to strike out the side in a one-run ballgame.
Vols’ head coach Tony Vitello stuck with Tidwell in the ninth before turning to senior lefty Redmond Walsh who came in and shut the door on Missouri
While Tennessee’s bullpen held the Tigers in check, Missouri’s bullpen fell victim to the Vols’ potent offense, despite it being quiet for the first four innings of the game.
Tennessee’s bats started to wake up in the fifth thanks to senior third baseman Trey Lipscomb hitting his 12th home run of the season to give Tennessee its first run of the game.
However, the biggest offensive spark came from senior leftfielder Christian Scott, who went 3-3 with a pair of singles and a double that started Tennessee’s two-run seventh inning that helped the Vols’ take their first lead of the game.
Tennessee’s nation-leading offense then blew the game wide open in the eighth thanks to a three-run home run from senior catcher Evan Russell, his seventh on the season.
The Vols hadn’t been in that close of a game all season. The last time the team trailed in a game was after the top of the first inning against Rhode Island on March 13, and the last time they trailed after a full inning was in the loss to Texas on March 4, a length of 181 innings.
“There wasn’t a real flow to the game,” said Vitello. “But I didn’t sense any panic or stress or anything like that. If our guys learned something tonight, it’s that nine innings is a long time.”
While the Vols didn’t start the game the way they may have wanted, Friday night’s game proved why they are the top-ranked team in the country.
Tennessee has shown tremendous depth in its top-ranked offense, especially with guys like Scott collecting three hits in only his eighth start of the season. The Vols also have several freshman like Jared Dickey and Christian Moore who can both start and come off the bench and make an immediate difference in any game.
The bullpen also showed its depth and ability to work through tight games, something Tennessee hasn’t seen with the weekend starters consistently going six to seven innings every night. If that type of performance is going to stay a recurring theme for Tennessee’s relievers, the Vols are going to be just that more dangerous.
Tennessee will look to build off Friday’s comeback success and take the series in game two against Missouri on Saturday at 7 p.m. E.T.