By: Gabriel Daniel
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee lost its fourth game in a row in a 12-5 routing by Tennessee Tech on Tuesday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The Vols (23-14, 5-10 SEC) again encountered poor hitting that has plagued them all year and that played a major role in the loss. Tennessee Tech (12-24, 2-7 OVC) on the other hand was spurred on by terrific performance from their bats. Hayden Gilliland led the way for the Golden Eagles, going five of six at the plate and driving in three runs.
It was an inauspicious beginning for the Vols with junior left-handed pitcher Zander Sechrist allowing hits against the first three batters he faced before being pulled in the first inning. The usual rock-solid bullpen fared no better.
The bullpen has usually been a strength for a Vols team who have been struggling to find their footing this season, ranking third in the country with a 3.19 ERA. However, that was not the case on Tuesday as the Tennessee pitching staff allowed 18 hits and walked six batters in the loss.
Apart from the unusually poor performance from the pitchers, the Vols bats again struggled to get consistent contact on the ball, getting only eight hits in 34 at-bats. One of the reasons for the inconsistent performance was the amount players that saw play time according to head coach Tony Vitello.
“You look at the box score there’s a million guys that are listed on there for us so I think there are some improper decisions there on the timing of guys on the mound,” said Vitello. “I think our offense is capable of really good things but for whatever reason it’s a little strangled right now.”
The offensive struggle has been a consistent theme for Tennessee, ranking 126th in the country with team-wide .282 batting average, a mark that is nearly 20 points worse than what it was in 2022.
One bright spot for the Vols offensively was the play of leadoff batter Hunter Ensley. The redshirt sophomore out of Huntingdon, Tennessee drove in four of the Vols’ five runs, three of which came on his third home run of the season. Ensley has been one of the more efficient hitters for the Vols with a .300 batting average, which is tied for fourth on the team.
Despite the poor play from the Vols, they still had a chance to win the game late. Heading into the ninth inning Tennessee was only down two runs. But the game completely fell apart for the Vols at the top of the inning.
The Golden Eagles got two clutch hits which were followed up by an error from Tennessee that loaded the bases. Tennessee Tech tallied up five runs in the ninth to completely shut the door on any chance of a Vols comeback.
“You could tell they [Tennessee Tech] were relaxed at the beginning of the game but when they sensed they had an opportunity to win the game it kinda ramped up … and seemed to be even more relaxed in the ninth then they were at the start of the game,” said Vitello.
The play on the field wasn’t the only bad news for Tennessee on the day as the Vols continued to deal with injuries. Shortstop Maui Ahuni missed his third straight game due to injury. Second baseman Christian Moore was in a boot before the game, dealing with a bruise on his foot. Pitcher Zach Joyce appeared to injure his throwing arm in his sixth inning appearance and had to leave the game.
Up next the Vols have a tough test at home against No.4 Vanderbilt, who fell to Indiana State 10-2 on Tuesday night. Game one of the series is on Friday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium with the first pitch set at 6 P.M. E.T.