KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 24 Tennessee held on against No. 17 Kentucky for a 10-7 win in its second-to-last SEC home game of the season.
With the win, Tennessee (35-16, 14-12 SEC) took the series victory over Kentucky (34-15, 14-12 SEC) and finished the regular season 4-1 in SEC series played in the friendly confines of Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
For Tennessee, starter Chase Dollander secured his sixth win of the season as he struck out six Wildcats while giving up five hits and three runs in his five innings of work.
“Overall, if you look at what he did for us over the course of five plus, it was pretty good because these guys aren’t going away for nine innings,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said about Dollander. “Up and down the lineup, they are competitive and talented hitters. For him to give us the base or foundation he did was tremendous.”
On the other hand, Kentucky starter Tyler Bosma was able to get through the first inning quickly on just four pitches, but the second was a different story. It started with a Blake Burke walk and it was followed by a barrage of singles from Christian Moore, Griffin Merritt, Zane Denton, Christian Scott, and Maui Ahuna. In total, the Vols came away with four runs in the second inning.
The Wildcats answered the call in the third inning as shortstop Grant Smith piped a solo shot to the deck in left field, making it a 4-1 contest.
It appeared Tennessee’s unproductive trend from the third inning would continue into the fourth, but the Vols had some two-out magic in them. Cal Stark and Maui Ahuna singled, and Hunter Ensley reached first as Ahuna beat a throw to second to load the bases for Jared Dickey, who proceeded to nail the scoreboard with a grand slam, stretching Tennessee’s lead to seven.
“I don’t know if it’s the right word for a bunch of baseball dudes, but love comes to mind,” Vitello said about Dickey. “He’s just got a lot of good energy coming out of him. He’s got love for his teammates, he’s got love for the game, he’s got a passion for hitting, he’s got a love for this place. A lot of his behaviors and the way he goes out are stemming from that, and our guys feed off that.”
Kentucky’s bats would not stay lifeless as the top of the sixth inning saw an offensive explosion from the Wildcats. A Ryan Waldschmidt walk followed by a pair of doubles from Hunter Gilliam and Emilien Pitre made it an 8-3 game, prompting Vitello to pull Dollander and call in senior right-hander Camden Sewell from the bullpen.
Kentucky would not stop there as a couple of singles from Jase Felker and Reuben Church continued the offensive trend. James McCoy brought Felker home with a double off the wall in left field, cutting Tennessee’s lead to four.
The Wildcats came back for more in the seventh inning. Jackson Gray started the at-bat with a single to left field and Hunter Gilliam took a walk two batters later. Pitre repeated his result from the previous inning with another double to bring Gray home, closing the gap to three.
Tennessee made the decision to pull Sewell after one and a third and bring in sophomore fireballer Chase Burns. It was not the most pleasant start for Burns as the Wildcats added another run off a wild pitch and a Jase Felker single made it 8-7.
The Vols responded back with two singles from Jared Dickey and Blake Burke. The momentum stalled for a second as Dickey was caught in a squeeze between third and home, but Christian Moore reached on the play and Dylan Dreiling consequently took a walk. With the bases loaded, Zane Denton extended the lead to 10-7 with a double off the wall in left field.
“I was looking for a changeup, but he threw me a fastball, and luckily the wind was blowing that way so it helped me out a little bit,” Denton said. “I was just trying to put the ball in play and score a couple of runs.”
After this, Chase Burns closed the game with a pair of monstrous innings in the eighth and ninth. Burns finished the day by striking out five Wildcats and giving up two hits and one walk, all while recording his first career save and just the Vols’ third of the season. This marked Burns’ first appearance since the Mississippi State series two weekends ago.
“I feel amazing now, I had just had a little soreness,” Burns said about missing the Georgia series. “Everybody knows their body the best, I didn’t think I was quite one hundred percent that weekend.”
Although Burns ultimately gets credit for the save, Zane Denton was there to assist him as he made a diving play on the ball at third and got a throw to first in time for the out.
“It was really good,” Chase Burns said about the play. “I have a lot of confidence in our guys in the infield.”
Tennessee will go for the sweep over Kentucky and another chance to boost its RPI and postseason resume in the series finale at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. The game will be televised on the SEC Network+.