By Tucker Harlin
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 24 Tennessee completed the series sweep over Mississippi State with a 13-2 victory in seven innings on an offensive-filled Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The win marked the seventh straight for the Vols (30-14, 11-10) and their third sweep in SEC play and second in two weeks. The win also marks the first time Tennessee has had a winning record in conference play this season.
“It feels amazing,” said Tennessee second baseman Christian Moore on the winning record. “We’ve started to become a team and I think that’s what we were missing at the beginning of the season. We’ve got a lot of new faces and a lot of new guys coming from different programs, so figuring out who each guy is and what they can bring to the table was definitely huge for us.”
On the mound, it was a strong afternoon for Tennessee starter Drew Beam. The sophomore righty pitched all seven innings and gave up just three hits, two runs (one earned), one walk, and struck out seven Bulldogs (24-20, 6-15). The only big plays that Mississippi State made on Beam were a Dakota Jordan RBI triple in the first inning and a Colton Ledbetter solo homer in the sixth inning.
“I had all my pitches going and just felt command for all of them,” Beam said. “I had that throughout the entire game, so that was a big factor today.”
Offensively, the Vols got their wheels turning in the first inning. Bulldog starter Jurrangelo Cijntje, a switch pitcher, walked both Maui Ahuna and Hunter Ensley, which led to Jared Dickey’s three-run home run off the batter’s eye to put Tennessee up 3-1.
“I kind of figured he was going to go lefty-lefty just from looking at the reports, and especially early in the game,” said Tennessee’s utility man. “But after looking at all the reports we had, seeing that he was probably going to throw a slider with runners in scoring position, I just sat on it and went with it.”
The cycle repeated itself as Dylan Dreiling and Zane Denton took walks and Christian Scott drilled a ball over the wall in right field. Tennessee was able to get all the way through its batting order in the first inning.
“He’s a pain in the butt at the plate,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said about Christian Scott. “That was something that was a staple of ours dating back two years ago with guys like Connor Pavolony, who was capable of hitting in the four hole. He’d be down there at the bottom and even if you got him out it was an absolute headache. When you have to do that over and over and over again as a pitcher, or as a pitching coach when you’re looking to address things, it becomes an even bigger headache.”
The Vols would not stay quiet as Moore sent yet another three-run homer over the wall next to the bullpen in the second inning.
The bats stayed strong into the third inning as Scott pushed a double down the first base line. Two batters later, Ahuna collected his first RBI of the afternoon with a single to left field, stretching the gap to nine.
The fourth inning saw more from Tennessee at the plate. Moore obtained his second home run of the day with a solo bomb to the deck in left field. Along with the first, this home run was part of a day that helped build some much-needed confidence for Moore.
“Obviously, I wasn’t swinging well for a couple of weeks,” Moore said. “I was struggling and in my head a little bit trying to figure out what was going on. I called him (Josh Elander) up and asked what he saw and what I should do at the plate. On Monday, we got out there and hit for about two or three hours, trying to get that feel back that I had early in the season.”
Tennessee would not stop with the Christian Moore home run as Zane Denton sent a double to the wall in right field to bring Griffin Merritt home, bumping the advantage up to 12-1.
After a hiatus in the fifth inning, Tennessee’s offense had one more run in them as Cal Stark’s first hit of the day blooped into left field and brought home Austen Jaslove, making it a 13-2 affair.
“He has a lot of energy and a lot of will to win,” Tony Vitello said about Cal Stark. “He’s a little bit of a glue to what’s going on between our coaching staff and what’s going on out on the field, which is what you want out of a catcher. I think the other guys do it well too, he’s just brought his own unique flavor. Who he is a really good player, he’s a grinder, which is required for that position, and he’s kind of like a Blake Burke or Luc Lipcius that plays the game like a little leaguer. It’s fun to watch, even in intense situations.
Tennessee will have Sunday off as it prepares for a Tuesday contest against Wofford (31-10, 8-4). The game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET on SEC Network+.