Tennessee vs. Missouri

#27 Garrett Stallings pitches during a game against Missouri on Friday, May 3. 

Tennessee turned in its second straight series, dropping two out of three to Missouri over the weekend. The Vols took game one and had a seven-run lead in game three, but couldn’t close out the Tigers for what would have been a pivotal SEC series win.

Let’s see how they graded out.

Batting

In most of Tennessee’s poor showings this season it was the offense that let them down, but that wasn’t the case this weekend.

Tennessee averaged seven runs a game this weekend and knocked Missouri’s starting pitcher, with some help from the weather on Saturday, out of the game before the fifth inning in each contest.

Tennessee’s offense almost always gets strong showing from Andre Lipcius and Al Soularie, but finding over contributors can be a problem.

That wasn’t the case this weekend as Jake Rucker and Evan Russell gave the Vols strong weekends and Justin Ammons seemed to break out of his slump giving Tennessee four hits on the weekend.

Combined, the three hit .388 on the weekend with nine runs batted in. Maybe just as importantly the group hit six extra-base hits and provided some power to a lineup that has lacked it at times.

The Vols did miss some opportunities with runners in-scoring position Sunday, but overall the offense did what it needed to win the series.

Grade: A

Starting pitching

Tennessee’s starting pitching, a strength for most of this season, struggled for the second consecutive weekend.

Similarly to Missouri, the Vols starters couldn’t make it deep into games going 4.1, 5.1, and 2.2 innings respectively.

Stallings, the squads ace, struggled on Friday night allowing nine hits and four earned runs. The junior kept it together long enough to allow for the comeback win, but it wasn’t the performance we’ve seen for most of this season.

Garrett Crochet dealt with a large amount of adversity, waiting out a two hour rain delay, but the sophomore was solid immediately after his return. He did give up a run in his first frame back, but some defensive mistakes were more to blame for that.

However, things started going poorly for him in the sixth inning as he gave up three earned runs allowing Missouri to take a 4-0 lead.

Zach Linginfelter was flawless in his first two innings Sunday as the Vols jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but the junior lost all command in the third inning and couldn’t make it out as Missouri stormed back into the game scoring seven runs in the inning.

At this point, Linginfelter has more poor starts then good starts in SEC play as the inconsistent Sevierville, Tenn. native ERA is at 4.65.

Tennessee’s staff will need to be better next week as they face a solid lineup at Florida.

Grade: D

Bullpen

Tennessee’s bullpen was relied on heavily this weekend and for the most part stood strong in the series.

Sean Hunley and Redmond Walsh were excellent on Friday combining for 4.2 scoreless innings of relief as Tennessee came from behind to take the series opener.

Will Neely wasn’t at his best on Saturday giving up a pair of runs in his two innings pitched, but a combined 3.2 innings of allowing two runs wasn’t horrible, the Vols offense just didn’t have enough to make another comeback.

On the surface, Camden Sewell’s four runs he allowed in 4.2 innings on Sunday don’t look great, but it doesn’t tell the whole picture.

He steadied the Vols after the catastrophic third inning, and besides two pitches where Missouri’s Paul Gomez took him deep he was strong.

It’s hard for me to blame him for the homer in the eighth inning that allowed Missouri to claim the lead, as he had already thrown a high volume of pitches and should’ve been pulled before the inning.

More on that below, but overall that was a fine weekend for the bullpen. They weren’t at their best, but Tennessee had much larger issues.

Grade: B-

Coaching

Sunday’s 10-8 loss was the first game this season that I felt Tony Vitello really mismanaged. He waited too long to pull both Linginfelter and Sewell from the game and it cost him big.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but Linginfelter had completely lost it in the third inning and stayed in the game for a couple batters too long.

Tennessee has had tremendous success this season pitching Andrew Schultz in the eighth inning and Walsh in the ninth inning while leading, but Vitello decided to stick with Sewell in the game allowing Tiger batters to face the freshman for the third time.

It was a strange decision at the time and after thinking it over for 24 hours I’m not sure what the reasoning was.

Schultz only faced one batter on the weekend, who he walked in four pitches, so it would seem that Vitello has lost some faith in him, but Walsh is Tennessee’s best relief pitcher and they’ve shown that they have faith in him to pitch multiple innings.

Maybe Walsh couldn’t pitch two innings after throwing 48 pitches Friday, but then you just have to blame Vitello’s questionable decision to keep Walsh in for the ninth inning after Tennessee extended its lead to six.

Overall, it’s hard to say Vitello handed his pichers well on a weekend that saw him pull all three starters in the middle of innings. It just seemed that he was a little too late on deciding to make a change this weekend.

Credit Vitello for taking the blame for leaving Linginfelter and Sewell in the game too long on Sunday, and saying the leash will have to be shorter for guys who struggle to throw strikes.

No one can deny what a good job Vitello has done in his two seasons on Rocky Top, but this weekend certainly wasn’t his finest.

Grade: D-

Overall

Tennessee had a great chance to make a move in the SEC east this weekend, but after dropping two out of three to Missouri it appears the Vols will have an uphill battle to finish higher than fourth place in the division.

Tennessee still has all of its goals out in front of them, but this weekend certainly didn’t get them closer to it. The pressure will be on next weekend as Tennessee travels to Gainesville to face a struggling Florida squad.

Both teams will be fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives and a series win would go a long way for the Vols.

It’s not time to hit the panic button after a second straight disappointing weekend for the Vols, but the sense of urgency certainly has to be higher after they let one get away.

Grade: D

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