KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Campbell lived up to its mascot’s name in a heavy weight fight against top-seeded Tennessee.
The Fighting Camels and the Vols went blow for blow at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, but it was Tennessee that prevailed with late game insurance in a hard-fought 12-7 win.
The Camels looked confident early on in Saturday’s matchup with the Vols. They didn’t let SEC Pitcher of the Year and First-Team All-American Chase Dollander get into his usual dominant rhythm, forcing the sophomore into deep counts early in the game.
After two innings of scoreless baseball in what looked to be a pitcher’s duel, Campbell was finally able to break through on Dollander. A leadoff bunt led to a two-run home run from the Camel’s leadoff man Jarrod Belbin that opened the scoring.
Campbell tagged Dollander for two more runs in the third inning behind four hits, two walks and an error. Dollander was chased out of the game after a walk that loaded the bases, ending The Tennessee pitchers day with six hits, allowing four runs (two earned), striking out two in 2.2 innings of work.
Then momentum shifted.
Vols’ left-hander Kirby Connell entered the game in relief of Dollander and forced a pop out to escape the bases loaded jam, where the game turned to Tennessee for a response.
As he’s done all season long, it was SEC Tournament MVP Drew Gilbert to get things started with a one-out double down the first base line. In the next at bat, Trey Lipscomb scored Gilbert on an RBI single that put Tennessee on the board for the first time. But the Vols weren’t done there.
Jorel Ortega, on a 2-2 count, sent a no doubt home run to left field that cut the deficit to just one run, sending Lindsey Nelson into a frenzy.
The Camels would no go away easy, as the next inning they put runners on first and third looking to tie the game back up. However, brilliant execution of a pitch out from Connell and catcher Charlie Taylor to force the runner on third into a rundown where he was eventually tagged for the final out of the inning. Once again, the momentum swung in the Vols’ favor.
In the top of the fifth with two outs, Luc Lipcius walked before Jordan Beck singled to left to put two runners on for Tennessee. Finding himself in yet another game-changing situation, Gilbert stepped up to the plate.
The junior outfielder took an 0-2 pitch and sent it over the score board for a three-run home run as he sent his bat flipping through Knoxville’s night sky to give Tennessee its first lead of the game.
Connell’s relief work in Saturday’s win proved to be huge in Tennessee’s regional win. With the Tennessee ace forced out early, the junior left-hander battled through four innings of shutout work before giving up a two-run home run in the eight inning that made it a 7-6 ballgame.
Tennessee, as it had done all night, responded immediately.
True freshman Blake Burke belted a solo home run to left-center field to push the Vols’ lead back to two. The homerun was Burke’s 14th of the year, tying a program freshman record,
The Camels kept fighting, as they responded with a solo shot of their own in the bottom of the eighth, making it a one-run game once again.
In a tight spot with a trip to the regional finals on the line, the Vols looked for some insurance in the top of the ninth. With two outs, freshman Christian Moore hit an RBI single up the middle before Cortland Lawson blasted a three-run home run to cap off Tennessee’s scoring.
The Vols then turned to closer Redmond Walsh, who shut the door and clinched Tennessee’s appearance in the regional title game.
With the win, Tennessee improved to 55-7, setting a program record for wins in a season. The Vols will play the winner of Georgia Tech and Campbell Sunday night at 7 p.m. EST.