The Tennessee Volunteers faced off against the Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks in the second game of a three game series on Saturday afternoon in which UT’s offense showed out as it hung an impressive 19 runs on the scoreboard, the mark is the most scored under third year head coach Tony Vitello, to give the Vols their second win of the season 19-0.
Once again, a Vol was making his first career start on the mound as Chase Wallace got the nod on Saturday. He is working on transitioning into the rotation from a solid bullpen arm. Wallace was extremely impressive as he gained the win after going 5.2 innings while only allowing two hits and giving up just one walk all afternoon. The junior struck out six batters, allowed no runs to come across and left the mound to a well-deserved standing ovation from the Vol faithful.
“(This off-season) I learned that I really needed to change my mentality on the mound,” Wallace said on his winter improvements. “The SEC is a very intense league so it is gonna take the right mentality to keep getting guys out in league play.”
Tennessee’s offense came to play today despite pre-season doubts that the Vols would have a strong offense this year. The Big Orange bats racked up 13 hits and 12 walks to bring across 19 runs. The offensive explosion was an all around team effort as 11 different Vols recorded hits in the game with only Zach Daniels and Drew Gilbert contributing multiple with two hits each.
One of the more impressive stats for the afternoon was that the Vols only struck out on three occasions, which is something the Vols aim to focus on as they had the second least in the SEC last year and will try to carry that over to this year.
Junior outfielder Zach Daniels led the way on offense as he went 2-for-3 on the afternoon which included a long three-run home run onto the street behind the left field fence at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Daniels also came across to score three other times, as he worked a walk to be the first man on for Tennessee and soon after crossed home plate after WIU pitcher Jace Warkentien balked.
“I definitely feel a lot more confident at the plate this year and it’s really paying off so far,” Daniels said after the game. “A lot of credit goes to Coach (Josh) Elander, he’s helped me a lot in the cage this year.”
Drew Gilbert made an impressive Tennessee debut as the former Minnesota Mr. Baseball pinch hit for Jordan Beck in the sixth inning where he knocked a double into the right center field gap on the second pitch of his collegiate career. The double drove in two runs and Gilbert later came in to score after Alerick Soularie grounded out to the second basemen. Gilbert walked in his next plate appearance and came across to score, but then singled in the eighth to bring in his third RBI of the afternoon and run number 19 for the Vols. Gilbert then came out to pitch in the top of the ninth where he struck out three of the four batters he faced to end the game and give the Vols the series win over the Leathernecks.
Austin Knight also pitched in three RBIs as he put a ball into the left field patio seating to give the Vols their second three-run home run of the seventh inning which put UT up 18-0.
“There’s gonna be a different guy to get the recognition each day in this game,” head coach Tony Vitello said about the pinch hitter production. “Today a lot of recognition goes to Austin Knight even though he came off the bench and didn’t have a good start yesterday. It seems like he took his frustrations out on that baseball (referring to Knight’s home run).”
Elijah Pleasants, Kody Davidson and Mark McLaughlin pitched in solid outings in relief to keep opposing hitters at bay. Pleasants relived Wallace in the sixth and struck out the only batter he faced all night throwing just four pitches. Davidson came in to toss the seventh, where he made quick work of the Leathernecks with the aid of first basemen Trey Lipscomb who made a nice grab leaning over the railing into the Vols’ dugout. McLaughlin too made quick work of the WIU hitters and recorded a three-up three-down inning in just seven pitches.
All around, the Tennessee Volunteers were impressive on Saturday afternoon as the offense exploded after remaining quite dormant on Friday when they recorded just four hits on the day. The pitching staff was yet again strong as they recorded their second shutout of the season and allowed just six hits between the two games so far this season.
The Vols will go for the series sweep at noon on Sunday, the game will be available to watch on watchESPN.