By Joseph Bonanno
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — After starting the season off 0-2, No. 3 Tennessee has now won five straight games after taking down Dayton in a 4-1 win on Saturday evening to clinch the series against the Flyers.
The Vols (5-2) took game two of the series behind sophomore right-hander Chase Burns, who was nothing short of dominant.
Burns (W, 1-0) was nearly untouchable against Dayton (0-5). The sophomore set a new career high in strikeouts after punching out 12 Flyers in 6.1 innings of work, breaking his previous record of 11 set in 2022 on the road against Ole Miss. Aside from three walks, Burns was nearly perfect, only surrendering two hits and just one run en route to his first win of the season. It was pretty clear that the sophomore had everything working on Saturday night.
“Just special stuff,” said Tennessee’s acting head coach Josh Elander. “One of the most talented pitchers in the country. It was really cool to see the fastball command tick up and also the slider go to another level because it’s a true wipeout pitch.”
Burns’ career day comes just one night after Friday night starter chase Dollander tied a Tennessee career-high of 12 strikeouts. For Dollander, Burns, and Sunday starter Drew Beam, matching each other’s performances has become a competition of sorts in the dugout.
“We call ourselves ‘The Big Three,'” said Burns following his 12-strikeout performance. “(Dollander) had a lot of strikeouts (last night) and I’m always trying to do what he does, so us three have come closer together and are always competing. We already told (Beam) that he better do the same thing.”
Tennessee only needed two arms on Saturday, as transfer pitcher Seth Halvorsen took over and picked up exactly where Burns left off. Halvorsen was perfect against the Flyers, retiring all seven batters he faced in 2.2 innings of work while racking up three strikeouts. The transfer right-hander closed out the ninth inning with just three pitches as he collected his first career save, and Tennessee’s first save of the year, in just his second outing for the Vols.
“It’s cool to see him back. It’s been a lot of work that’s went into him behind the scenes,” said Elander. “He’s gonna be a real weapon for us.”
Halvorsen, who was the Friday night starter for Missouri back in 2020 and 2021, missed the entirety of the 2022 season due to an injury. Despite the setback and despite there being no room to be a starter for the Vols, Halvorsen has found himself a new home at the front of Tennessee’s bullpen, a transition that’s gone very smoothly.
“I think he’s just been selfless,” said Elander. “He’s athletic and capable of pitching in any role and he’s excited to be back out there after watching for an entire year last year.”
Halvorsen and Burns’ performance was more than enough for the Vols’ offense, which had a much quieter game than their previous four outings.
Tennessee only put up four runs on five hits after winning by a combined score of 52-3 in the past four wins.
The Vols were able to jump on the board quickly in the first thanks to Griffin Merritt’s RBI double. The Vols added two more runs in the second inning thanks to sophomore shortstop Austen Jaslove’s RBI double and Christian Moore’s sacrifice fly. Moore would cap off the scoring with an RBI single in the fourth, giving him a team-high two RBIs on the day.
Despite scoring four runs, the Vols struggled with runners on base, stranding 10 men while hitting just .182 (2-11) with runners in scoring position, including 0-3 on a bases-loaded and no-out situation in the seventh inning that resulted in zero runs. Tennessee also struck out seven times but did manage to draw seven walks as well.
“Guys were making things a little tougher than they need to be,” said Elander. “Hopefully we learn from it and get better but I still got a lot of confidence in this group of guys.”
Tennessee will go for their sixth straight win and the series sweep over Dayton on Sunday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. First pitch is set for 1 P.M. EST and will be broadcasted on the SEC Network+ as sophomore right-hander Drew Beam (1-0, 0.00 ERA) is set to take the mound for the Vols.