KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 11 Tennessee dropped its series opener with No. 3 Florida in a 6-1 loss on Thursday night in which the Vols’ offense struggled to produce at the plate.
What looked to be a promising start to the game for Tennessee’s (21-9, 4-6 SEC) starter, junior right-hander Chase Dollander, turned into another struggle. Unlike in Dollander’s starts against Missouri and Texas A&M, Dollander looked to get into a rhythm early in the game. However, Florida (26-5, 8-2 SEC) hitters worked Dollander into some long counts before eventually wearing him down.
The Gators got on the board in the top half of the second inning after Blake Burke booted a ground ball to put a runner on base, who eventually came around to score on an infield single from Michael Robertson. The error was the Vols’ 25th of the season and the seventh in the last two series (six at LSU) as the Tennessee defense continues to cost itself runs.
Burke made up for the error in the home half of the inning, hitting a 415-foot solo home run over the batter’s eye to tie the game. It was Burke’s 11th home run of the year, extending his lead for most on the team.
Dollander struck out the side in the third inning before giving up a solo home run to Cade Kurland in the fourth. Then in the fifth, Dollander found himself in trouble. The junior walked the leadoff batter and gave up a double before Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello pulled him for junior right-hander Seth Halvorsen, who gave up a three-run home run to Gators’ shortstop Josh Rivera and a solo home run to BT Riopelle as a part of the four-run inning.
Dollander finished the night going just four innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits while walking three and striking out seven on 93 pitches. It was the shortest outing of the year for Dollander, whose inconsistencies continue to plague his most recent starts.
“Just a little bit off,” said Vitello describing Dollander’s consistency issues over the last few weeks. “Tonight, I thought the mindset, the approach was really good, the execution you could argue was a little bit off, but again facing a heck of a lineup and it just got to (that) point in the game.”
As for the Tennessee offense, it was more than “just a little bit off.”
Tennessee had nothing working outside of Burke’s second-inning home run. That isn’t to say that the Vols didn’t have their chances throughout the game, which they did several times. Tennessee got the leadoff runner on base in six out of the nine innings, however, couldn’t capitalize and ended up stranding 13 runners on base by the end of the game.
The biggest missed opportunities came in the sixth when the Vols couldn’t drive in any runs with the bases loaded and again in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded once again. Tennessee ended the game 2-23 at the plate with runners on base and 1-13 with runners in scoring position, which sums up Tennessee’s offensive performance against the Gators.
“You talk about winning at-bats…and too many times we had a couple in a row and then nothing,” said Vitello. “There are ways you can help the team win and keep the thing moving in a forward direction even if you don’t hit the ball over the fence and we had a few too many at-bats that kind of stalled us out.”
Florida starter Brandon Sproat (W, 5-1) was nearly untouchable against Tennessee. The junior held the Vols to just four hits and the only run while striking out nine over 5 2/3 innings. Outside of the four walks Sproat issued, he flat-out dominated the Vols.
Tennessee hitters struck out 18 times, seven times looking, against the Gators, which tied a program-high that was set almost six years ago to the date on April 7, 2017, in a extra-innings win against Florida. Only one Tennessee hitter managed not to strike out, which was senior outfielder Christian Scott. Sophomore second baseman Christian Moore went 0-5 with four strikeouts looking and sophomore catcher Jared Dickey went 0-4 with three strikeouts. Blake Burke led the team with two hits and the Vols’ only RBI.
Tennessee will look to even the series against the Gators on Friday for game two. First pitch is set for 7:00 P.M. EST and is set to broadcast on the SEC Network. The Vols will send out sophomore right-hander Chase Burns (2-2, 4.97) to face Florida’s junior right-hander Hurston Waldrep (5-1, 4.74 ERA).