No. 3 Tennessee Edges Out Gonzaga Behind Dollander’s Gem

Photo by University of Tennessee Athletics.

By Joseph Bonanno

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. —  The Vols’ offense scored six of their eight runs in the sixth inning to help Chase Dollander and No. 3 Tennessee edge out Gonzaga 8-2 in Friday night’s game-one victory.

Staters for both teams combined for 24 strikeouts and four straight scoreless innings, however, it was the Vols (9-2) who took the lead in the fifth inning and never looked back.

Gonzaga (1-8) saw Dollander (W, 2-1) pretty well early on, getting a leadoff hit off the Tennessee ace in each of the first three innings. However, Dollander proved why he is one of the top prospects in all of college baseball as he struck out 11 batters and held the Bulldogs scoreless through six innings of work.

Dollander showcased his ability to fight through adversity, holding Gonzaga to just 2-13 with runners on base and 0-4 with runners in scoring position after the Bulldogs found some early hits against the Friday night starter. Despite all of that, Dollander found a way through and left it all out on the field after a big sixth-inning strikeout with runners on base.

“It was a grind of a day, to be honest with you,” said Dollander. “The game getting pushed back, the wind, the storm, it all just kind of built up. I kind of figured that was my last inning, so I went out there and just attacked, attacked, attacked, and that last hitter just felt my wrath.”

After the 11-strikeout performance, Dollander is now up to a team-high 30 strikeouts on the year and has lowered his ERA to 2.20. The right-hander has now also picked up back-to-back wins with double-digit strikes after losing his first game in a Tennessee uniform to Arizona in the season opener.

“My confidence level is pretty high right now,” said Dollander. “I always like to go out there with a lot of confidence and knowing people can’t hit me is my mindset when I take the mound.”

On the other side of the mound, Gonzaga starter Owen Wild (L, 0-2) went toe-for-toe with Tennessee’s ace. Wild struck out 13 Vols in 5.2 innings of work and looked nearly perfect until the fifth inning.

Christian Moore broke the scoreless tie with a 452-foot, fifth-inning home run over the left field porches, his second long ball of the year. Moore, in his second year with Tennessee, has proven just how competitive he is, which is why he came through in a much-needed spot according to Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello.

“He’s the type of guy that wants it more difficult,” said Vitello. “Not everyone is built like that, and (Moore) is and that’s what came of it.”

Tennessee continued that competitive mindset in the sixth as Zane Denton led off the inning with his first home run as a Vol to extend the Tennessee lead. That’s when the Vols struck.

Tennessee loaded the bases with two outs, chasing Wild from the game and forcing Gonzaga to go to their bullpen. Jared Dickey was hit by the first pitch from the Bulldogs’ relief pitcher Jack Moffitt, then Moore walked to drive in his second run of the game. Gonzaga made another change on the mound, but Blake Burke had other plans, hitting a two-RBI single that eventually cleared the bases to extend Tennessee’s lead.

It was an inning that Dollander’s performance deserved and one the Vols were determined to give their starter.

“Just keep doing what you do and keep being great and throwing strikes and we’re gonna get you some runs.” That was the offense’s message to Dollander just before their sixth-inning burst, said Moore. “He’s a big leaguer in all of our minds so we know when he’s in there and on the bump we’ve got a shot to win.”

With the win on Friday, Tennessee claimed its ninth-straight win, which also doubled as Vitello’s 200th career win. Vitello, who’s in his sixth year with the Vols, is now the fastest to 200 wins in program history, passing Rod Delmonico’s previous record. However, to Vitello, it’s more of a reflection of the staff than it is him as an individual.

“As a coaching staff, we haven’t even sniffed what Coach Delmonico’s done here, but I’m pretty damn proud this group has stuck together,” said Vitello. “There’s been a lot of (offers) coming up, but I think we’re all loyal to this university, we’re all loyal to Knoxville, and I think we love working for each other.”

Tennessee will go for its tenth win in a row and the series win as the Vols and the Bulldogs get set for game two of the series on Saturday night. First pitch is set for 6:00 P.M. EST as sophomore RHP Chase Burns (1-0, 2.45 ERA) takes the mound for Tennessee to face RHP Jacob Rutherford (1-0, 8.64 ERA) for Gonzaga.