By Griffin Hadley
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee put an exclamation point on a dominant weekend Sunday afternoon after defeating No. 4 Vanderbilt 10-5 and sweeping the weekend series and marking the seventh straight win over the Commodores (29-11, 13-5 SEC), the longest streak since 1993-94 when the Vols (26-14, 8-10 SEC) won eight straight.
The Vols put together a complete team performance as sophomore right-hander Drew Beam threw yet another gem and the offense had a consistent, balanced attack. The Tennessee offense struck early once again putting up a five spot in the second inning and continuing their dominance with a four spot in the fifth.
“Both sides of the ball were firing on all cylinders,” Beam said. “It’s easy to keep it going when the guy next to you has your back through everything.”
Beam bounced back from a tough outing last week in Fayetteville, allowing five hits and just one earned run in 6.2 innings of work. Although the sophomore went for just three strikeouts, the Volunteer defense, led by shortstop Maui Ahuna, was stellar backing up Beam.
“That was an outlier of an outing and Arkansas did a good job against him,” head coach Tony Vitello said about Drew Beam’s performance last week. “You figured he’d come back with a little extra determination. Like last year, he kind of always seems to smell blood a little bit when he has an opportunity to finish a series in this fashion.”
In contrast to Chase Dollander’s complete game on Saturday, the Vols used a slew of different relievers out of the bullpen to end Saturday’s contest. After Drew Beam’s productive outing, Seth Halvorsen, Kirby Connell, Aaron Combs, and Chase Burns all contributed to the Tennessee win.
Despite defensive hiccups in the seventh and eighth innings, the Vols were able to limit the damage and keep the lead out of reach of the Commodores. Once again Chase Burns was superb, coming into the game to start the ninth inning and leaving unscathed, flexing his bullpen muscle once again.
Although Vanderbilt put up five late runs, it wasn’t enough to make the series finale competitive. After fighting tooth and nail on Friday evening, the Vols seemed to never look back, finishing the series with back-to-back commanding victories.
“It was way more important for our guys to find who they are,” Vitello said. “That was a fun group to be around the last few days, a totally different group.”
After igniting the bats in the bottom of the ninth inning Friday night, the Tennessee bats never looked back and carried the momentum until the end of the series finale.
The offense was highlighted by Hunter Ensley’s three-for-five day at the plate. Ensley found the left field porches twice, adding three RBIs to his season total.
Ensley wasn’t the only Volunteer that found success at the plate. The Vols had a balanced attack going for twelve total hits on the day. Griffin Merritt added a home run in the seventh and three additional Vols added extra-base hits to the scorecard.
Once again, the Tennessee offense showed up when it mattered, capitalizing with runners in scoring position and battling through all three outs. Throughout the weekend the Vols found strength in playing solid situational baseball and continued that trend on Sunday.
“I think as a team it’s just trying to win a ball game, regardless of the outs or regardless of the score,” Ensley said. “People competing in the box and trying to win a game, doing anything they can to get on base and extend innings.”
A series win was much needed for the Vols, being able to sweep an in-state rival takes the success to another level. After struggling to pick up a series win in almost a month, the Vols will now try to maintain momentum heading into the back half of SEC play.
Tennessee (26-14, 8-10 SEC) will be back at home all next week starting with a midweek matchup against Bellarmine on Tuesday evening. The first pitch at Lindsey Nelson Stadium is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. EST and can be viewed on SECN+. The Vols will then host Mississippi State next weekend looking to climb back to .500 in SEC play for the first time since early March.