Tennessee breaks out the SEC brooms with aseries sweep over LSU

Photo Credit: Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

By Jace Brown

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee hosted LSU for the fifth SEC series of the season and were able to grab all three wins at Lindsey Nelson Stadium over the weekend

The Vols could not have asked for a better start in the series opener on Friday. Fresh
off an appendectomy, third baseman Billy Amick made his first start since March 24.

His impact on offense was immediate. Without giving fans a chance to sit down following an ovation, Amick took the first pitch he saw deep over the left field wall for a 2-run home run, his 11 th long ball of the season.

Tennessee left-handed pitcher Chris Stamos made his first start in orange, going 2.2 innings, giving up two hits and one run, and striking out three batters. Though his outing was short, it proved effective versus a flashy LSU lineup that includes the bat of third baseman Tommy White. White went 3-for-5 on the night with two runs batted in.

Stamos’ effort was followed up by right-handed pitcher AJ Causey, who picked up his sixth win of the season. Causey’s prior two outings, he totaled only four innings while giving up 15 hits, 16 runs (15 earned), while striking out seven. Out of the bullpen Friday, Causey bounced back with 4.2 innings giving up five hits, no runs, and striking out seven batters.

“(I) just focus on making elite pitches,” said Causey. “I worked with Frank and Rich on my slider, tried to throw it harder, a bunch of stuff that all came together.”

When Causey got into a bases-loaded jam with one out in the eighth, the trusty left hander Kirby Connell trotted to the mound to stop LSU’s threat. He did just that, picking up a strikeout and causing a fly out to get the Vols out of the inning unscathed. Connell set the program appearance record in his 105 th stint on the rubber, overtaking long-time reliever Redmond Walsh’s record of 104 appearances.

Amick was not the only contributor for Tennessee’s offense as several players came up with timely knocks. Second baseman Christian Moore and first baseman Blake Burke each had two hits. Burke extended his hitting streak to 24 games with a single in the third inning. Tennessee outfielder Dylan Dreiling continued to show his dominance with a solo home run, his 13th of the year, over the short fence in right field in the fifth

The billing of a pitcher’s duel lived up to expectations, with both Tennessee and LSU turning to their aces for Saturday’s matchup in front of a record crowd at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

LSU’s Luke Holman gave the Vols trouble during his entire outing, going 5.2 innings while only giving up two hits. The two hits against Holman did not come until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Tennessee’s Burke hit an infield single with one out, followed up by Amick hitting a double down the left field line. Burke’s single extended his hitting streak to 25 consecutive games.

After another batter, Holman was replaced by Griffin Herring, who would go the distance from there. On the first pitch after the pitching change, Tennessee took its first lead of the game thanks to a 2-run single by Dreiling.

Amick’s return weekend was not over just yet, as he planted a solo home run off the scoreboard in right center field, his 12th blast of the season, in the eighth inning to extend the Volunteers’ lead to 3-1.

It would not be a pitcher’s duel without mentioning Tennessee starting pitcher Drew Beam. Beam pushed through 6.2 innings of work, giving up one run on eight hits and striking out five. Another typical outing for the veteran junior set up right-hander Nate Sneed to close the door on the Tigers. The Wichita State transfer threw two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three.

“They’re a good team… they’re not getting up there and just looking at pitches,” said Beam. “Competing with every pitch was really important. (I) gave up eight, nine hits, whatever it be, my goal was to keep them from touching the plate. So, did a good job of that, hopefully, so it gave us a win so that was all I was excited about.”

Tennessee coach Tony Vitello was pleased not only with the win, but how the team did it.

“We talked in the outfield last night, and it was a repeat speech; I couldn’t get creative,” said Vitello. “We’re adding different ways to a rolodex of ways to win games, which is nice…Today was low-scoring and real gutty… It doesn’t matter what the circumstances
are, you need to find a way to win.”

The Vols swept their first SEC series of the season on Sunday with an 8-4 victory against a struggling LSU team.

“Huge. If I had to pick a team to do it against it’s probably (LSU) for knocking us out last year,” said Burke. “That’s a team that we love competing against and they love competing against us, too. Just a fun series whenever we play each other, they’re a good team and I think they’ll turn it around at some point.”

Tennessee started the scoring in the third inning with a 2-run home run off the bat of Burke, his 12th of the season. He was not the lone Vol to go deep on the afternoon, as second baseman Christian Moore cranked two home runs, a solo blast in the sixth and a timely 3-run round-tripper to push his total to 15, the team’s lead. Moore also tied Burke’s record for Tennessee’s all-time home run record, both sitting at 42.

“We joke about it a little bit,” said Moore on the race for the home run record. “It’s always fun to be in this kind of situation; even if we tie, I would like a tie just so no one has bragging rights, but if he wins, he wins.”

LSU (22-15, 3-12) starter Nate Ackenhausen gave the Tigers an early chance with four innings, giving up just two hits and the two runs thanks to Burke. LSU’s offense had a few sparks as well, including a solo home run from catcher Hayden Travinski to tie the game in the sixth and a no-doubt 2-run blast from third baseman Tommy White in the eighth to cut the deficit down to two.

Tennessee pitcher Zander Sechrist got another SEC start under his belt and fared well in the outing, going 5.2 innings while giving up six hits, two runs, and striking out five.

After short stints from Andrew Behnke and Connell, Aaron Combs delivered two shutout innings to earn his first save of the season, striking out three batters without allowing a base runner.

Tennessee catcher Cal Stark has worked his way back into a starting role after a big weekend at the plate at Auburn. Sunday, his 2-out, 2-run blooper of a double to left center cemented the game, giving the Vols a 4-run lead and the final score, 8-4.

Amick found his rhythm immediately on Friday and has kept the train rolling. With two homers this weekend, Amick seems to have resolidified his role as the 3-hole hitter in the dangerous Tennessee (30-6, 10-5) lineup. With that, he did have lapses in the field that cannot be overlooked. Two errors on the weekend brings up questions of reliability for the junior third baseman, but his bat is too good to overlook.

The top of Tennessee’s lineup is back in form thanks not only to Amick, but huge spots for Moore and Burke. The trio has combined for 39 home runs and 97 runs batted in just over halfway through the season.

“Together is the key word, the way they interact with one another,” said Vitello. “Obviously CMo (Moore) and Blake (Burke) have a ton of history here together… Billy (Amick) fits in, in an odd way, so well and gets along with those two guys. I think they realize how much we love having them but how much of a headache they are… for other people.”

LSU is off to a similar start to recent teams coming off a national title. Mississippi State went 9-21 in SEC play after its 2021 title season and Ole Miss went 6-24 following its 2022 national championship.

Tennessee is on an 8-game home winning streak against LSU, its last loss against the Tigers at home came in 2016 when LSU swept the Vols.

After Tuesday, April 16’s meeting with Bellarmine, the Vols hit the road to face one of the hottest teams in the SEC: the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky (30-5, 14-1) has won 10 straight SEC games behind a hot offense with infielder Nick Lopez batting .396 on the year and great outings on the mound from Mason Moore (7-0, 2.62 ERA).

Tennessee’s midweek showdown against Bellarmine on Tuesday, April 16, is set to start at 6:00 p.m. ET on SEC Network+. Game one of the 3-game series versus Kentucky is Friday, April 19, at Kentucky Proud Park. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET on SEC Network+.