Tennessee Breaks Out the Brooms Over Albany, Weekend Review

Photo Credit: Ian Cox/ Tennessee Athletics

By Jace Brown

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Albany has a long bus ride home waiting for them as Tennessee
sweeps the Great Danes at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, with the final score on Sunday
being 12-0 in seven innings.

Tennessee (7-1) picked up its sixth straight victory, including five at home, Sunday
behind another stellar pitching performance from the entire staff, allowing just one hit on
the day. The one hit came in the first inning against starting pitcher Zander Sechrist.

Last weekend in Arlington, Texas, Sechrist did not have the greatest start of his career.
Baylor jumped out on him early, tagging four hits and three runs in the only two innings
Sechrist appeared in. Sunday was a different story.

Sechrist gave up the lone hit in the ballgame to the second batter he faced, Will Binder,
but immediately got a 4-6-3 double play to roll his way in the first. His second inning
was even better, striking out two Great Danes in that half inning.

Though his day was short, Sechrist took a step forward compared to last weekend,
finishing with three strikeouts and not giving up a run. His performance was followed up
by another solid outing from recent Wichita State transfer Nate Sneed.

Sneed (2-0, 2.35 ERA) earned his second win on the year, the first coming in relief
versus Baylor, and retired all eight batters he faced and racked up three strikeouts to

“My cutter was there, alive again today,” said Sneed. After being asked about a bounce
back from his Arlington appearance, Sneed said, “It felt good. I don’t like walking
people; I don’t think anybody does.”

A familiar name out of the bullpen made his season debut on the afternoon as well, that
being Kirby Connell. He performed his signature one-batter outing before handing the
ball to Andrew Behnke. Behnke pitched one inning but proved reliable, fanning two
batters in the process with a total of 10 pitches in the sixth.

Tennessee’s Derek Schaefer was the last man on the mound for the Vols. Though he
gave up the only walk, he tallied a strikeout and closed out the Tennessee win.

Pitching was solid for most of the weekend, especially Sunday afternoon, but there are
some questions still to be answered for the upcoming week.

“For the way this staff is going to work out, if (AJ Russell) is a little sore… we’re going to
be conservative with him and give him a few days,” said Tennessee head coach Tony
Vitello. “He’s certainly not going to be at his pitch count for a couple weeks… there’s
innings available.”

“Other than Beam being the one solidified starter on the weekend, everyone else is
going to have to mesh outs together for us,” Vitello continued.

On the offensive side, the Vols got plenty of help from the Great Dane rotation. Albany
gave up 14 free trips to first base thanks to 11 walks and three hit batters across its six
innings of work.

Seven hits was all the Vols could muster and only two went for extra bases, both off the
bat of Robin Villeneuve. Villeneuve went 2/3 at the dish with a 2-run double and a sky-
high solo home run as well as a walk.

While the scale of victory pales in comparison to Saturday’s 15-run win, the “big inning”
trend continued for Tennessee. The Vols plated six runs in the sixth inning, comparative
to Saturday’s nine-run fourth inning and Wednesday’s 11-run third inning.


Dean Curley cements his spot as the everyday shortstop.
Wednesday was the start of what has shown to be a potentially incredible career for
Tennessee’s freshman infielder Dean Curley who took up the shortstop position after
missing opening weekend due to injury. He has started every game starting with ETSU
and has dialed up two home runs and a triple. Sunday, though, he exited early after
taking a hit-by-pitch off the helmet.

While he did not return, his presence on both offense and defense are evident for the
Vols. Curley, who stands at 6-foot-3-inches, is lengthy and has the speed to make plays
smaller players cannot. His placement also keeps Christian Moore out of the position,
as he is primarily a second baseman. Curley brings pop to the lineup unlike some
others in competition for the spot and is consistent on defense. If his shake-up Sunday
turns out to be a non-factor, he should be THE GUY for the job.

Robin Villeneuve should not leave the lineup.
Villeneuve has been a pleasant addition to an already outstanding offense for
Tennessee, lifting his second home run in as many contests on Sunday. So far, he’s
batting .583 with a .737 on base percentage through his six appearances.

Though it is still very early in the season, his production at the JUCO level has
translated quite well in the 2024 campaign. He’s also a guy Coach Vitello said can play
anywhere in the field, and Villeneuve has also said he doesn’t care where he’s placed
as long as he gets action. With every coach in America wanting a guy with that mindset
partnered with his work ethic, Villeneuve should see no problem being a mainstay this
season in a roster that has power draped all over it.

Freshman pitchers getting weekend start opportunities.
Coach Vitello still has yet to find his three go-to weekend men, and with SEC play still a
few weeks down the road, one option to test would be to thrust the young talent in the
pitching staff into a Sunday start or two. With pieces like Matthew Dallas and Dylan Loy
shining in their midweek appearances, real growth can be made in some weekend

The only set-in-stone starter on the weekends, Drew Beam, was the Sunday starter in
his freshman season in 2022. He was paired with fellow freshman at the time Chase
Burns, the Friday starter, both of whom were All-SEC and All-America picks. The
ceiling is so high for the pitchers in the program thanks to pitching coach Frank
Anderson developing MLB talent over the last several seasons. I would love to see him
give the young Vols a chance to prove themselves.

Tennessee continues its 15-game homestand on Tuesday, February 27th at Lindsey
Nelson Stadium against High Point University, a team that picked up an SEC win
against Ole Miss this week. First pitch is set for 4:30 p.m. ET.