The No. 4 Tennessee baseball team defeated No. 8 Mississippi State 12-2 in the Third Round of the SEC Tournament on the back of Chad Dallas’ stellar start at the Hoover Met. The Vols advance to the Fourth Round and will play the winner of Alabama and No. 13 Florida.
“There was a lot that went on in the game, but the whole story is they're all big wins,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “There isn't any win that's not big. That might have been our best, or at the very least, one of our best wins of the year when you throw all circumstances out there on the table.
“Coming back from yesterday, not a lot of sleep, early wake-up, facing a guy that came into the SEC labeled as one of the best lefties in the conference and one of the best closers in the country sitting down there waiting too,” Vitello said. “That's in everyone's mind, everything that went on. It's a tough group, tough group of kids. We didn't have any magic speech or anything like that. They just like to compete, and they kind of seem to like the bounce-back thing more than anything.”
The Vols racked up 15 hits on their way to run-ruling the Bulldogs. Liam Spence tallied three hits, two RBIs and two runs scored at the top of the lineup. Max Ferguson recorded three hits as well, along with three RBIs. Jordan Beck and Pete Derkay had two hits apiece including home runs.
Not much went right for Mississippi State offensively, as it finished the game with just two runs on only eight hits. Rowdy Jordan recorded two hits to lead off the order. Tanner Allen and Kamren James each drove in a run after both going 1-for-4 in the morning.
Tennessee’s scoring barrage started in the bottom of the second inning with a three-run shot from Derkay. Spence capped off the inning with an RBI single to put the Vols ahead 4-0. The Bulldogs answered in the next half-inning with an RBI single from Allen that went into left field.
“I was kind of just looking for something to kind of hit back up the middle, like a little low line drive because there were two outs,” Derkay said. “I don't know if I was really sitting on anything. He just left me a pitch over the middle of the plate, and I put a good swing on it and kind of the rest is history, but that's about it.”
In the middle innings, Tennessee continued to grow its lead. In the fourth inning, Beck drilled a ball over the right-field wall to give the Vols a 5-1 edge. Two more runners scored in the fifth inning as Drew Gilbert singled home a run and Ferguson stole home. Ferguson would come back up to the box in the bottom of the sixth to plate the eighth run for Tennessee
The second and final Mississippi State run came in the top of the eighth after James hit into a fielder's choice. However, the game would end in the next half inning as Tennessee drove in four more runs to take a 12-2 victory and advance further in the SEC Tournament.
Dallas started on the bump for the Vols and was dominant. Tennessee’s ace surrendered just a run on six hits over 6.2 innings of work. Redmond Walsh entered out of the bullpen for Tennessee and gave up a run over 1.1 innings.
“For me, I knew they were a really good team, well-hitting team,” Dallas said. “Nothing was free out there on the mound, but I knew that they had never seen me in person. So I knew that it was a challenge for them as it was a challenge for me. So really it was just attack their hitters and see what they can do. The offense got off to a really good start, and defense played really well on top of that.”
Christian MacLeod opposed Dallas in this morning's game but didn’t last long as he threw just 4.0 innings after giving up five runs on five hits. Will Bednar and Landon Sims were two pitchers who entered in relief. They combined to allow seven runs to cross home plate in just 2.1 innings of work.
The Vols’ Fourth Round SEC Tournament match against Alabama or Florida will begin at 4 p.m. on Friday at the Hoover Met.