By Jackson Williams
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The No. 1 ranked Tennessee Volunteers had a big target on their backs entering the Knoxville Regional on Friday evening where Alabama State Hornets were the first team to get the chance at the top-ranked Vols.
The Vols (54-7) shut out the Hornets 10-0 to advance to the winner’s bracket if the regional tournament.
Tennessee started the scoring in the first inning off of an RBI double from Jorel Ortega. That score would hold until Ortega’s next at bat where he hit a home run to dead center field that bounced off the batters eye to double the Vols lead at 2-0 in the fourth inning. The Vols would add another run off a sac fly from Jordan Beck in the fifth. It was a low scoring affair early but Tennessee really started cooking in the sixth.
It all started in a way that not many scoring rallies have started for Tennessee this season—an RBI sacrifice bunt from Charlie Taylor.
After Blake Burke walked and Cortland Lawson singled into left center, Taylor who stepped in to start for the unexpectedly unavailable Evan Russel, who per Vols‘ head coach Tony Vitello woke up sick Friday morning, laid down the perfect bunt to score Burke and increase the lead. Taylor’s at bats were among the loudest that Lindsey Nelson Stadium got on Friday night as the crowd rallied behind the freshman catcher.
“I was honestly a little nervous, but the way Blade threw the ball and Vol Nation rallied around me, it was a moment I’ll never forget,” said Taylor following the postseason win.
The party continued as Luc Lipcius would hit an RBI single to score Lawson to eventually be brought home by Beck’s first homer of the night. As the bats started to heat up, on the very next at bat, SEC Tournament MVP Drew Gilbert stepped up and made it back to back and put the Vols up eight runs heading into the seventh. A solo home run from Burke in the bottom of the half of the inning and Beck‘s second homer of the night capped off the scoring as the Vols cruised to their 27th double digit run performance of the season.
On the defensive side, right-handed sophomore Blade Tidwell was the star of the show. Tidwell threw for 7 ⅔ scoreless innings, only allowed three hits, and didn’t walk a single batter while striking out seven.
“I feel like I’ve returned to form,” Tidwell said.
Vitello seemed to agree saying that the pitcher has returned to the pitcher that Vol fans were “antsy” to see. Even Alabama State Head Coach Jose’ Vazquez had high praise for the young pitcher.
“If he’s not a first rounder than I don’t know what it would take to be a first rounder.”
Vazquez went on to say that Tidwell is better than some of the guys that he see’s pitching in Major League Baseball.
The sophomore was fantastic tonight and all in all this was an all around performance from the Vols that gives them a lot of momentum heading into the rest of the weekend and beyond.
With the win, the Vols will play the Campbell University Fighting Camels in the winners bracket on Saturday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium at 7 p.m. EST. as the Vols look to continue their postseason run.