Causey Cuts Through Illini Order in Series Opener

Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics (@Vol_Baseball

By Gabriel Daniel

KNOXVILLE, Tenn –  A constant drizzle did not prevent AJ Causey from being the star of the show for No. 8 Tennessee Friday night in a 6-2 win over Illinois. 

The Vols (14-1) seem to have found a key piece to the pitching rotation after Causey struck out 12 Fighting Illini (5-7) batters. 

“Everything was firing on all cylinders tonight, the slider was feeling way better than it’s felt the past two weekends and the change-up and sinker were all working,” said Causey. 

It was an inauspicious start for Causey, allowing a Fighting Illini run in the first inning after the wind carried a ball into right-center field for a double. 

Causey quickly rebounded, not allowing a run in his next five innings of play. Causey finished the game allowing six hits with 25 batters faced and picked up the win. 

Causey spent his previous two seasons at Jacksonville State before transferring to Tennessee for his junior season. He got his first start for the Vols on March 1 against Bowling Green where he only allowed one hit in seven innings. 

The Vols bats started the game with doubles from Christian Moore and Blake Burke followed by a home run from Billy Amick to give them a 3-1 lead. Cal Stark added a home run in the bottom of the second inning. 

“That one was down in the zone, put a good swing on it and didn’t really know if it was going to get out because that wind was pretty crazy early on in the game,” said Stark. 

After the hot start, the Tennessee bats cooled down. 

The Vols did not score again until the sixth inning when Dean Curley hit a double to bring Dylan Dreiling in for the score. Dreiling also hit a home run in the eighth inning. 

“He’s always had kind of the same swing, the same explosive. I would say the more direct answer is physicality,” Vols head coach Tony Vitello said about Dreiling. 

It was smooth sailing for the Vols until the top of the ninth. After two scores from Illinois, sophomore pitcher Marcus Phillips came in for Kirby Connell and picked up the save. 

Tennessee finished the game with nine hits, three of which were home runs. Andrew Behnke picked up three strikeouts to bring the Vols’ game total to 15.

The Vols will take on the Fighting Illini for the second game of the series Saturday. First pitch is at 1:00 p.m. ET and will be streamed on SEC Network Plus.