Two-Out Offense Leads Tennessee to Series Win Over Vanderbilt

Photo by University of Tennessee Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee put together eight two-out hits en route to a 17-1 series-clinching win over No. 4 Vanderbilt on Saturday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

After walking off the Commodores in a comeback win on Friday night, the Vols’ offense woke up on Saturday, using multiple two-out rallies to stun Vanderbilt and win their second SEC series of the season.

The offense’s dominance started in the first inning, as Tennessee had 10 batters reach base with two outs as the Vols plated nine runs. Jared Dickey singled then Blake Burke and Christian Moore both walked to load the bases for redshirt freshman Kavares Tears, who roped a two-run single down the third base line to give the Vols the lead. The Vols never turned back.

Zane Denton and Cal Stark drove in three runs on a pair of hits, then Maui Ahuna launched a three-run home run to right-center field to really open things up. The Vols plated another off a Vanderbilt error to cap off their nine-run first inning.

Tennessee did much of the same in the second inning, getting started with a two-out, two-RBI double from Christian Scott. Then Ahuna drove in another with an RBI single to give Tennessee an 11-run lead.

One day after the Vols went 0-11 with runners on base, Tennessee found its “clutch gene,” going 8-15 from the plate with runners on and 6-12 with runners in scoring position. Most of the Vols’ damage came with two outs, scoring 14 of their 17 runs in that situation. Situational hitting has been a problem for Tennessee all year and ended up being the winning formula for the Vols against Vanderbilt on Saturday.

“Guys just had better team at-bats. That’s a little cliché or general, but you saw guys with two strikes just putting the ball in play or fouling off a tough pitch, guys not swinging too big early in the count or in an advantage count like maybe have in the past,” said Vols head coach Tony Vitello. “Again, all those fall under the umbrella of they were just better team ABs, and it’s not like we don’t have a bunch of team guys, but sometimes you can get lost in trying to please others or do things or meet expectations in the box rather than, just win the next pitch for your team.”

With Tennessee’s offense waking up after the walk-off win on Friday, the Vols’ pitching staff is reaping the benefits of getting some run support, most notably Tennessee starter Chase Dollander.

Dollander, the 6-foot-2 right-hander out of Evans, Ga., was brilliant in Tennessee’s seven-inning win. After giving up a solo home run in the first, and loading the bases in the second inning, Dollander retired 18 of the final 22 batters he faced, including 11 straight Commodores. After back-to-back SEC losses, Saturday’s performance was big for the Vols’ ace.

“Having this outing, it has been a long time coming is what I am trying to say,” said Dollander. “I keep stacking good outing after good outing after good outing and finally, this happens. I just have to take it and keep going with it.”

Dollander completed his first career complete game with the win over Vanderbilt and with the effort, earned his fifth win of the season.

The one negative for Tennessee on Saturday came in the top of the seventh inning when Dollander was covering first on a pop-up in foul territory, and Vanderbilt’s Troy LaNeve ran into Dollander at the bag. Following the collision, Christian Moore got into the face of LaNeve, where the two had to be separated by umpires. After some discussion, Moore was ejected from the game and replaced by Austen Jaslove.

“So the explanation was, after they talked about it for a while, that they needed to take action for whatever had gone down. I saw most of it. I was going out there to make sure CMo (Christian Moore) wasn’t going to do anything he wasn’t supposed to do. And actually, I talked to him and told him we were going to bring in somebody else, which he wasn’t happy about, but then after that, there was a decision to eject him, which means he will not be available tomorrow,” said Vitello.

According to Section 2-26 in the NCAA rulebook, Moore will have to serve a one-game suspension for his ejection, meaning he will not be available in Tennessee’s game against Vanderbilt on Sunday.

With the series win over Vanderbilt, it seems Tennessee, which had struggled through the first half of SEC play, has started to turn a corner. The team appears to be playing much looser

“I think the guys have made a decision, regardless of how tomorrow goes or any other game the rest of the season, they’ve kind of made a decision,” said Vitello. “Let’s come together as a team and be what we are and call it let it all hang out if you want but again come together as a team and see what we can do.”

Tennessee will go for the sweep over Vanderbilt on Sunday, with first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m. EST. The Vols will lean on sophomore RHP Drew Beam (4-2, 3.73 ERA) on the mound while the Commodores will send out sophomore LHP Devin Futrell (6-1, 2.35 ERA) to try and salvage a game from the Vols.