By Joseph Bonanno
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — No. 12 Tennessee completed the sweep of No. 21 Texas A&M in a 9-6 win over the Aggies on Sunday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The win brought Tennessee (19-7, 3-3 SEC) back to .500 in conference play.
Similar to the first two games of the series, Texas A&M (15-9, 1-5 SEC) found a way to strike first on the Vols after Jack Moss hit a two-out solo home run in the first inning off of Tennessee’s sophomore starter Drew Beam. The sophomore limited the damage to just that and held the Aggies scoreless over the next two innings to make way for the Tennessee offense to respond in the third.
Sophomore center fielder Hunter Ensley singled to lead off the inning, giving Tennessee its first hit and baserunner of the game after the first six Vols were retired in order. Christian Scott moved him over to second base with a sacrifice bunt, which led the way for senior third baseman Zane Denton to hit a go-ahead two-run home run to left field, his fourth long ball of the season.
“I felt like I’ve been struggling a little bit right-handed, trying to do too much and force results,” said Denton. “I really just wanted to hone back on my approach and just keep my swing as simple as possible. It felt amazing especially to help the team win. That’s the biggest goal here.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Beam’s start on the mound was short but effective for the Vols. The sophomore went just 4.1 innings where he allowed six hits and three runs while striking out two but did just enough to limit the Texas A&M offense.
The Aggies tied things up with a sacrifice fly off of Beam in the fourth after a wild pitch moved a runner from second to third with just one out, but Tennessee responded with a Christian Scott RBI single to take the lead right back. Texas A&M would repeat the wild pitch-sacrifice fly combination in the top of the fifth after Beam was replaced by junior right-hander Seth Halvorsen to tie things up again. And once again, Tennessee would respond.
Denton led off the home half of the fifth with his second home run of the day, the fifth of the season, to give Tennessee the lead right back. The Vols then worked the bases loaded with two outs, which brought up freshman Dylan Dreiling to pinch hit. Dreiling delivered big, roping a two-run double down the left-field line to extend the Tennessee lead to three runs.
Dreiling has shown potential in his limited action with the Vols. After Sunday, the freshman has 12 hits in 38 at-bats while knocking in eight runs. With there being heavy competition in the Tennessee outfield, Dreiling has made the most of his opportunities on the field.
“There’s a presence there that’s a little abnormal for a first-year… just starting to collect his first few at-bats in the SEC. It’s a high-level skillset and he’s making progress too just kind of the way he approaches things, in particular at the plate,” said Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello. “It’s a good guy to have around and I think the future is bright for him but currently, as it stands, he can be a really big part of this team, already has been, and if he continues to improve he definitely will be if not more.”
Tennessee’s offense showed no signs of slowing down. Blake Burke ripped an RBI single into left in the sixth and Denton added to his big day with a two-RBI double in the seventh. Denton ended his day leading the Vols’ offense going 3-3 with five RBIs, two home runs, and a walk after being moved to the ninth spot in the Tennessee lineup. And to Vitello, Denton’s success was a result of a shift in his mindset.
“Saw more determination and more attitude. He’s obviously got a good skill set and he knows how to play the game but I think the way he plays when he’s got a little bit of edge to him is kind of what fits in here and it seems to be his best,” said Vitello.
The Vols ran into some trouble in the ninth inning, letting the first three runners for Texas A&M reach base. An RBI groundout, an error, and a sacrifice fly allowed three runs to score and blemish what was otherwise a solid outing for the Tennessee bullpen, a combination of eight different arms, to close out the final 4 2/3 innings of the game.
After being swept by Missouri to open conference play, the Vols have responded well winning their last four games. The pitching staff threw much better for the majority of the weekend, giving the Vols’ offense plenty of chances to stay in games and grab leads.
Against Missouri, Tennessee got itself into early deficits and the offense wasn’t able to respond. However, against the Aggies, it seemed like the Vols had an answer for everything Texas A&M threw at them both offensively and on the mound.
Tennessee will return to action on Tuesday to take on UNC Asheville at 4:30 P.M. EST before hitting to road to take on No. 1 LSU in Baton Rouge. The series against the top-ranked Tigers begins Tennessee’s gauntlet of facing four of the top five teams in the country in four consecutive weekends.