Vols Baseball vs Western Illinois

The Tennessee Volunteers got their season started this past weekend with a sweep of the Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks by a total series score of 45-4.

Let’s see how they graded out.

Hitting

When a team puts up 45 runs in any three game series ever, it definitely deserves an A. The Vols posted a series average of .327 while racking up 36 hits with seven of those being doubles. The Vols also sent six balls out of the park with Austin Knight accounting for two of those. One thing that stands out among those astounding stats is that the Vols drew 25 walks during the series, the guys proved to be patient at the plate instead of trying to go yard every at bat and it showed as the team had quality at bats all weekend long.

Center fielder Zach Daniels led the way for the Volunteers as the junior hit .500 this weekend going 4-8 with a double, home run, five RBIs and five runs scored. Daniels showed out his strength on Saturday as his three-run home run landed across the street past left field. He also worked three walks to post an impressive .636 on-base percentage to close out the weekend.

Sophomore Austin Knight came out swinging with some authority, knocking two balls into the porch seating in left field which accounted for all of his team-leading six RBIs.

Freshman Drew Gilbert was ready when his name was called as he pinch-hit in two big hits off the bench on Saturday as he totaled three RBIs and two runs scored on the day which earned the former Minnesota Mr. Baseball a start in Sunday’s game. On the final day of the series Gilbert went 1-2 with a walk and a run scored which gives him an average of .750 to finish the series.

Overall, the weekend showed a true team effort as a lot of the runs scored came from guys off the bench which shows this team seemingly has much more depth than what it is used to and head coach Tony Vitello looks to utilize that to improve upon last year’s 40-21 record.

Grade: A+

Starting Pitching

Vol starters went a combined 15.0 innings and only allowed three runs. What’s even more impressive is that all three starters were making their collegiate starting pitching debut as Chad Dallas, Chase Wallace and Jackson Leath all picked up their first wins as starting pitchers for UT.

Dallas got the call on opening day and made the most of it as he went five innings while only allowing three men on base all game. His final line was 5.0 IP, one hit, no runs, two walks, and four strikes to cap off a solid debut on Rocky Top.

Wallace opened game two on the mound and followed Dallas’s suit as he too only allowed three base runners during his start and did not allow any of them to cross the plate. The junior made his first career start wearing orange as the previous two seasons Wallace had been used as a reliever. He may have seen starting action on the mound last year, but his season was cut short due to injury after just nine appearances out of the pen. Wallace was pulled from the game after 5.2 IP when he had allowed just one Leatherneck hit and struck out six to post another shutout start for the Vols staff.

Jackson Leath was introduced as the starting pitcher for the final game of the series. The junior transfer from Blinn College has been highly touted for his swing and miss stuff and he showed Lindsey Nelson Stadium what all the hype was about. Leath got into a bit of trouble in the first inning but quickly worked out of it after a mound visit where he seemed to settle in. Leath struck out seven straight Leathernecks on his way to a 12 strikeout day in just 4.1 innings. Of the 13 outs the Vols recorded with Leath on the mound, only one was not by a strikeout. Tennessee fans should be excited to see this kid every time he steps on the mound. He finished giving up two hits and picking up three earned runs after a ball that seemed like it was heading well foul fell onto the chalk and scored two for WIU.

All three starters for the Big Orange were electric on the mound and gave the fanbase a taste of why this pitching staff has been so highly praised coming into this season.

Grade: A

Bullpen

The bullpen saw a lot of action during opening weekend as head coach Tony Vitello and his staff decided to keep their starters on a pitch count due to the cold temperatures and to help get arms into midseason form. Ten different Vols emerged from the bullpen to toss a combined 12 innings where they only allowed one run when Trenton Bauer hit a ball over the scoreboard for Western Illinois in the top of the seventh.

Sean Hunley was the only man out of the bullpen to go more than one inning as he went four on opening day where he allowed just one baserunner on when Jayden Gibson got a base knock. Hunley struck out just two batters over the four innings of work but kept the field busy as the Leathernecks could not seem to get a bead on his pitches as they popped up or hit slow dribblers all afternoon.

Elijah Pleasants came in to face just one batter on Saturday after Chase Wallace was pulled and he picked up a strikeout to close the inning. Kody Davidson relieved him in the seventh where he gave up just one hit and retired the other three Leathernecks. Mark McLaughlin took over in the eighth. He allowed no runners and notched one strikeout. The dual threat freshman Drew Gilbert came in to pitch in the ninth after picking up three RBIs on offense. He struck out the side after giving up a hit to close out the second game of the series.

Redmond Walsh relieved Leath in the fifth and finished off the two men left in the inning. Will Mabrey, Christian Delashmit, Kody Davidson and Mark McLaughlin all picked up an inning in the final game of the series where they racked up four strikeouts and allowed just one run.

The bullpen was excellent in the Western Illinois series as they only allowed one run, but one should keep in mind that the Leathernecks were forced by inclement weather to be inside all preseason and had not seen the field until they made it to Knoxville.

Grade: A

Fielding

Over the three games this past weekend, the Vols had some amazing plays, two of which came from preseason All-American Alerick Soularie, who made two sliding grabs to take away hits from the Leathernecks. 

Evan Russell doubled off a WIU runner at first after sliding to steal a hit and coming up firing, catching the runner too far off the bag. 

Trey Lipscomb made a leaning grab over the first base dugout railing in the top of the seventh in Saturday’s game to help Davidson on the mound after giving up a hit to the man before.

The Vols committed two errors on the weekend, both coming in Friday’s 3-0 win. Overall, the Vols made the routine plays needed to win games and also caught a lot of the fifty-fifty balls that can really change the course of the game. The fielding in the series was promising, but we will see how they respond when they are challenged with the power of teams in the Round Rock Classic this weekend such as Texas Tech who scored 65 runs in their four games this past weekend.

Grade: A-

Coaching

The Vols were able to use this series to get a lot of guys playing time which head coach Tony Vitello did a very good job of rotating players and getting guys reps early in the season. The bench provided a lot of run support on Saturday and Sunday showing that Vitello is rightfully excited about this team’s depth.

The cold temperatures and arms not being fully conditioned yet led to the pitchers being on quite low pitch counts all series. No starter went more than 5.2 innings, but we were able to see a lot of the bullpen which showed to be quite impressive. It was good to see Vitello sticking to strict pitch counts because so many guys get hurt to start the season when they are having good starts so they get left in too long. 

Grade: A

Overall

The team came out and was quite dormant on Friday, but came to the park to put on a show the next two days combining for 42 runs on 32 hits. The team showed that it can have a lot more offense that anticipated and can be something Vols fans can get really excited about.

The pitching staff was excellent all weekend only giving up four runs over three games. This staff will need to be the back to the team as it heads into the tougher part of the schedule.

The Vols made their routine plays this weekend and were not tasked with making tough plays as the Leathernecks struggled to square the ball up all weekend

Grade: A

Up Next:

The Vols will take on UNC-Charlotte for $2 on Tuesday where fans can general admission tickets for $2. Hot dogs and popcorn will also be $2. The Vols are expected to start Elijah Pleasants on the mound as he will take on LHP Trae Starnes for the 49ers. The 49ers are 1-2 on the season as they dropped their season opening series to VCU. The game will start at 4 p.m. and will be available to watch on watchESPN or as an audio broadcast on the UTSports website.

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