Coming out of a sweep at the hands of Arkansas, the Vols were only finding wins when everything was going well. Whether that be from a rough outing from the opposing starting pitcher or being gifted runs early and coasting, things going right was the only path to victory for Tennessee.
Fast forward two weeks and the Vols are on a six game winning streak with each win coming in a variety of different ways. One of those wins came from a ninth-inning surge against Vanderbilt in a pitching battle that led to a walk-off. Another walk-off came after the Vols blew a lead to Mississippi State on Thursday.
On Friday, they found another way to win.
“As many games as you can win in one way or another way — it only builds your resume up for the year to learn how to win games,” reliever Camden Sewell said. “That’s something you have to do, learn how win in every single situation.”
In recent weeks, this team has carried itself differently. They look confident and loose no matter the situation. Most importantly, they are staying calm.
“It always helps to be relaxed,” head coach Tony Vitello said. “If you’re tense, you’ll get exposed by a guy who will dice you up in the SEC. Certainly helps to be loose, but that part in particular comes from the guys wanting to come together as a group and find a way to do whatever it takes for everyone to come together.”
Chase Dollander stepped on the mound on Friday despite feeling sick. While head coach Tony Vitello respected his decision, Dollander came out sluggish and his night was over in three innings after allowing five hits and four runs — all earned.
Down 4-0, the Vols had some work to do and hadn’t seen much life from the bats. When Dollander exited to begin the fourth, the Vols had just one hit.
Blake Burke kicked off the inning with a single, and Christian Moore sent him home with a two-run shot to the batter’s eye. The lead was cut in half, but the inning ended abruptly on a double play and a fly ball.
The Bulldogs fired back with a three-run fifth inning and the ground Tennessee made up was erased, trailing 7-2.
“So, what do we need to do to have success? Just find a way,” head coach Tony Vitello said. “It doesn’t have to be ‘it felt good, I hit I had or I got mine’ or anything like that – it’s what do I have to do to get to the next pitch and help our team win?”
The Vols’ bats went back to work again and delivered a four-run inning courtesy of a Jared Dickey homer and back-to-back RBIs with two outs. However, the Bulldogs added another run from a Burke throwing error.
Christian Scott reached the plate on a throwing error in the sixth, and the bases began to fill up when Jared Dickey was hit by a pitch.
Though still down a run, the energy shifted in Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Burke was on deck with two on base.
What happened next was inevitable, and it gave flashbacks to the Burke we saw before SEC play. The Burke who saw mound visits and intentional walks as soon as he stepped up.
After taking the first two pitches, Burke unloaded what Vitello said was the most beautiful swing in the SEC, blasting a three-run homer. The Vols took a 10-8 lead for the first time of the night and didn’t relinquish.
As the bats were willing a comeback bid, Sewell entered the mound with two outs in the top of the sixth and never left until punching the last batter out for the win.
Vitello visited the mound in the ninth to bring in a closer, but Vitello left and Sewell stayed. He told Vitello to let him stay and it payed off to complete the Vols comeback.
“Everyone’s finally playing for each other and it’s really special to see,” Sewell said. “It’s the point we’ve been trying to get to for a while, but I think we’re in a good place and excited to keep this thing going.”
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