Tennessee entered the week after a clean sweep of Western Illinois where they out scored the Leathernecks 45-4. The Vols carried that offensive power into the next week as they took on UNC Charlotte, No. 1 Texas Tech, Houston and No. 25 Stanford. Tennessee was able to go 4-0 on the week as they picked up marquee wins that should get the Vols into the top 25 polls.
Here’s how they graded out for the week.
Tennessee’s offense continued to show its fire power, but they also mixed in some small ball to put up 29 runs over four games to average 7.3 runs per game. The team posted a .271 batting average over the four game stretch, as it struggled against Stanford, but capitalized on the Cardinals’ errors to hang seven runs on the Palo Alto based school.
Junior outfielder Zach Daniels has been on a tear to start the season and it continued this past week as he hit .353, drove in six runs and scored four for himself. His performance this weekend in the Round Rock Classic was good enough for him to be awarded the Classic’s inaugural MVP award.
The Vols’ starters only went a combined 16 innings over the four games as head coach Tony Vitello is still working on getting arms into midseason shape by keeping guys on pitch counts to protect against injury. In those innings, they allowed 17 hits, seven walks and seven runs. The pitching staff has been great this season as the starters allowing 1.7 runs per start is something Vitello would be very happy to maintain all season.
Chad Dallas was the star of the show in the game against top-ranked Texas Tech as he went 5.0 innings while allowing five hits and two walks and striking out eight Red Raiders. The high-powered offense from Lubbock struggled to get anything going against Dallas, as they could only muster two runs. This was no match for Tennessee’s offense that night, which hung six on the scoreboard as the Vols upset the No. 1 team in the nation.
The Vols’ bullpen is something its coaching staff takes great pride in. The depth allows Tennessee to throw anyone on the mound at any given time in a game, which is a great advantage to have. The bullpen for Vols pitched 20 innings this week, giving up just one run, allowing nine hits and limiting the opposition to just four walks and striking out 26 batters.
Sean Hunley shined this week as the junior tossed just one inning in relief against Charlotte, but also came in for four innings against Texas Tech where he combined for one hit, two walks and zero runs and struck out seven over the combined five innings. Hunley has proved to be a weapon for Tennessee out of the pen and continues to impress with each outing.
Freshman Drew Gilbert picked up his first win of the season as he came in with two outs in the second to relieve Elijah Pleasants against Stanford. Gilbert tossed 4.1 innings while only allowing one run to cross and striking out three. The two-way player from Minnesota has been a weapon for the Volunteers and looks to continue contributing on both sides of the ball.
Tennessee committed four errors over the four game stretch with two coming from Max Ferguson and Chad Dallas and Drew Gilbert each committing one. Errors are a part of baseball and will never disappear, so when a team averages one per game, a coach will not exactly be happy, but cannot be very mad about it either. The Vols managed to limit the runs scoring off of errors to just two.
Head coach Tony Vitello is seemingly settling into a more consistent day-to-day lineup, which is currently producing well for the Big Orange. He has also been very successful in his rotation of players to this point as the Vols have profited well from pinch hitters as Luc Lipcius and Pete Derkay both provided huge RBIs off the bench this weekend.
Vitello is also progressing in his decision making as one can tell that every out matters to him which he showed as he pulled Pleasants on Sunday after just 1.2 innings on the mound after he gave up just one run. Most coaches across the nation would have left their starter in to get experience, but Vitello saw it as an opportunity to get Gilbert in for long relief and showed his team that every out matters to him.
The grades for this week are extremely high, but rightfully so. This Tennessee team has proven the nation wrong as they marched into the Round Rock Classic as a major underdog and proceeded to handedly sweep the weekend knocking off No. 1 Texas Tech and No. 25 Stanford along with a solid Houston team. This team has a real chance to be a threat in the SEC and even in the NCAA tournament this year as Tony Vitello aims to get the Vols to its first Super Regional since 2005.
From top to bottom, this roster has shown great improvements from last year starting with Zach Daniels who has been killer for Tennessee through the first seven games of the season. The nation has started taking notice of the Vols as some major polls have Tennessee ranked as high as No. 19 this week despite being outside of the top 40 to begin the season.
The Vols will return to Rocky Top after a weekend trip to Texas as they host Northern Kentucky on Tuesday and UNC Asheville on Wednesday, both games at 4:30 ET. These will be the first two games of an ten game home stand where the Vols look to sharpen up before entering the meat of the schedule in the middle of March.