This Sunday afternoon Tennessee baseball finished its opening series against Western Illinois and the Vols were able to top the Leatherheads 23-4.
During the offseason, many people doubted the ability of Tennessee’s offense as the Vols lost a lot of their production from last year with Andre Lipcius, Jay Charleston, and Ricky Martinez all heading into the minor leagues after the 2019 season, but the Tennessee came out and proved those doubters wrong as they put up 23 runs on 19 hits in the win and completed their second straight series sweep to begin a season.
The Vols were helped greatly by starting pitcher Jackson Leath who made his Tennessee debut after spending his first two seasons at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas where he posted a 5-2 record while striking out 61 batters over 61.1 innings of work during his sophomore campaign. Leath got out to a quick start as he retired 11 of the first 13 batters he faced, only allowing a walk and a runner on due to a dropped third strike through the first four frames.
Leath single handedly won the crowd free queso as the promotion requires 10 strikeouts throughout the game to treat the fans to free food, but he did so in just 4.1 innings as the junior college transfer struck out 12 batters including a stretch of seven in a row.
“Being able to go out and know the guys behind me had my back really made everything easier today,” Leath said on his first career start. “It definitely takes a lot of pressure off of a pitcher knowing the defense behind you will make plays.”
The junior finished the game picking up the win with a line of 4.1 IP, two hits, three earned runs, two walks, and 12 strikeouts. Leath’s only earned runs came from a Dillon Sears two-run triple after which Leath was pulled from the game and Sears later came across to score to give Leath his third earned run. Overall, he looked absolutely electric on the mound and had the Leathernecks’ hitters off balance all game.
The offensive barrage was led by Luc Lipcius who went 2-3 on the afternoon with two two-run doubles to rack up four RBIs on the day during his first start of the season.
“It’s really important that we used games like this (to get better) and not give away at-bats,” Lipcius said “The fact that we were grinding out at-bats and working walks made me really happy seeing that we weren’t swinging for the fences and we were trying to play our style of baseball, that’ll really help with this tough weekend coming up (Texas Tech, Houston, and Stanford) and even Tuesday (UNC Charlotte).”
The junior from Australia, Liam Spence, also contributed two hits and two RBIs for the Vols as he moves his average to .333 on the year.
Austin Knight knocked his second career home run for Tennessee as he put a ball into the porch seating in left field in almost the exact same spot as he hit one the day prior. Knight finished the game with 3 RBIs.
Catcher Connor Pavolony also had a solid game as he went 1-3 on the day but drew a walk and scored three runs.
The Vols’ relievers were once against stellar as they posted a combined 4.2 IP, just three hits and only one walk. Redmond Walsh, Will Mabrey, Christian Delashmit, Kody Davidson, and Mark McLaughlin all came out of the bullpen to help put the game away. The bullpen only allowed one run all series when Trenton Bauer smashed a ball over the scoreboard during the seventh inning of today’s game to close WIU’s deficit to nine.
Drew Gilbert continued his hot start to the season as he went 1-2 with a walk and a run scored. His average after the first three games comes in at .750 for the dual threat freshman.
Tennessee put up 45 runs over the three game series and scored more than 15 runs in consecutive games for the first time since 2010 when the Vols beat Lipscomb 16-7 and then beat Mississippi State 15-13 in Starkville.
The win was an all around team effort as 13 different Tennessee players recorded hits with six of those players collectiving multiple knocks. 23 different players saw action on Sunday as head coach Tony Vitello used the blowout to get a lot of reps for some younger players and to use the time for position battles.
“I think it (depth) is there for us, now our guys have gotten the first go around out of their system and it’s important to get those firsts out of the way so you can improve upon them,” head coach Tony Vitello said when asked about team depth this year. “We didn’t play as well as we wanted to last year (in the NCAA regional), it was the first regional for everyone in this building, at least while wearing this uniform, so hopefully we can use that depth and improve upon last year and do the whole ‘get better’ thing this year.”
The Vols will be back in action against UNC Charlotte at Lindsey Nelson Stadium at 4 PM for $2 Tuesday.