No. 1 Tennessee Eases Past No. 8 Vanderbilt in SEC Tournament Opener

Photo Credit: Jake Nichols, Volunteer Country on Sports Illustrated
By Joseph Bonanno

HOOVER, Ala.– No. 1 Tennessee was scheduled to play No. 8 Vanderbilt on Wednesday afternoon. However, a constant rain-filled sky pushed the game back until Thursday night.

Despite the delays, Tennessee’s high-octane offense and dominant pitching didn’t seem to slow down as the Vols eased past the Commodores with a 10-1 win to open their run in the 2022 SEC Tournament at the Hoover Metropolitan Complex.

After a dominant appearance out of the bullpen against Mississippi St. in the final series of the regular season, Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello awarded sophomore right-handed pitcher Blade Tidwell the start to open postseason play. Tidwell looked strong against Vanderbilt, throwing 4.1 innings and only allowing three hits in the outing. His only blemish on the scoreboard was a Carter Young solo home run in the fifth inning.

Tidwell didn’t have to do it all on his own as the Tennessee offense provided him with some hefty run support. Tennessee got on the board early thanks to a Drew Gilbert RBI-single in the first inning, but it was a five-run third inning that solidified the win for the Vols.

Seth Stephenson got things started with a leadoff single before Jorel Ortega plated him with an RBI double. Gilbert then followed with his second RBI single of the night before Evan Russell and Christian Moore both collect RBI hits to cap off the inning.

The Vols weren’t done there, however, as Trey Lipscomb collected his 75th RBI of the season in the fourth, and Blake Burke and Cortland Lawson each hit their 11th home run of the year in the fifth and seventh innings, respectively.

Vanderbilt didn’t help itself against the Vols’ offense, committing four errors in Thursday’s game. Tennessee was able to take advantage of the Vanderbilt mistakes and capitalize for their first win in the SEC Tournament.

The biggest and most important moment of this game for the Vols was the fact that Vanderbilt’s leadoff man Enrique Bradfield Jr. was completely kept off the base paths, going 0-4 on the night. Bradfield Jr. entered the SEC Tournament with a perfect 42-42 on stolen bases and has shown to be able to instantly change the Vanderbilt offense with his speed.

Tennessee’s pitching staff prevented Bradfield Jr. from causing havoc on the bases and showed how that can shut down the Vanderbilt offense. However, Vitello credits the Vols having some luck with Bradfield Jr. in Thursday’s win.

“I’d say we were fortunate for him to not be on the bases and kind mess things up. I think too you see those graphics and everything like that, you’ve got to just play ball,” said Vitello. “And obviously he changes the game a little bit, but you can’t get too wrapped up in what he’s doing or he’ll make it worse on you.”

The Vols came into the matchup with Vanderbilt expecting a fight after sweeping the Commodores in Nashville back in April. However, an early lead and strong pitching quickly stopped any hope of revenge from Vanderbilt.

Thursday’s win made it the first time Tennessee has beaten Vanderbilt four times in a season since 1994. It also gave Tennessee its 50th win of the season which marks just the fourth time in program history the Vols have reached 50 wins (1994, 1995, 2021). However to Tennessee, winning isn’t the biggest goal.

“You know, winning is an outcome for what we’re just doing. Our approach isn’t really to win games, it’s just to go out and have fun and enjoy what we get to do,” said Russell following the win over Vanderbilt. “Our approach is to go out and compete as highly as we can, and I think winning is just kind of the effect of it.”

Tennessee will play the winner of LSU/Kentucky on Friday night at approximately 9 p.m. ET (8 p.m. CT). Vitello confirmed on Thursday that sophomore and SEC Pitcher of the Year Chase Dollander (8-0, 2.30 ERA) would start for the Vols in their third-round matchup.