The No. 6 Tennessee baseball team looks to bounce back from its first series loss of the season, as it faces off with Texas A&M this weekend. The series will be the second time the Vols (30-8, 10-5 SEC) have ever played in College Station.
The Vols are coming off a four-game stretch that didn’t quite go as planned. They dropped two of three to No. 2 Vanderbilt over the weekend, before winning a tight contest in walk-off fashion Tuesday night against Tennessee Tech.
“The game tonight I think just falls in line with the group we have,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said after Tuesday’s win. “I mean, yeah it came after an emotional series, and yes, we want to be confident going into a road series. But it’s the middle of April, it’s muck and grind time.”
Pitching has been the story of late for the Vols, as some of their key bats still haven’t broken out. Two of Tennessee’s veteran starters, Chad Dallas and Will Heflin, provided a breath of fresh air for the Vols against Vanderbilt, both working seven innings against the SEC’s top offense.
Even more impressive was that Dallas and Heflin held their own against Vandy’s Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, who could easily be the top-two picks in this year’s draft.
Dallas gave up two earned runs on five hits while striking out seven. Heflin was even better, as he out-dueled Leiter and gave up just one earned run, though he was charged with three more unearned runs following an error from Jake Rucker.
Even the pitching in the midweek game was much better than last week’s 12-run affair. Jason Rackers set career-highs with 3.1 innings and four strikeouts in his second career start while not allowing an earned run. Rackers has made a pretty good case for himself to appear in a weekend game. Out of the pen, Sean Hunley had a much needed dominant outing, striking out four in two frames.
Despite a 4-11 SEC record, Texas A&M has had solid pitching. The Aggies own a very respectable 3.96 team ERA, and all three starters the Vols will face this weekend — Dustin Saenz, Bryce Miller and Nathan Dettmer — have an ERA under 4.00.
On offense, Texas A&M has really been led by one man, senior infielder Will Frizzell. He leads the Aggies in the traditional counting stats, batting average (.352), hits (51), runs (32), home runs (12) and RBIs (31), as well as OPS by a wide margin (1.099).
The Aggies have also gotten production from Ray Alejo, Austin Bost and Logan Britt, who each have an OPS of at least .830.
While its conference record certainly is bad. Texas A&M has plenty of momentum entering the weekend. After dropping the first two at No. 1 Arkansas, the Aggies salvaged the series with a thrilling 11-10 win. And on Tuesday, they beat up on in-state rival Texas Southern.
“They’re battle tested,” Vitello said on Texas A&M. “They’re like everyone, they’re hungry for their best baseball down the road. Nothing is going to be easy in this league, nothing is going to be easy when you’re on the road. When you combine the two, it’s a good challenge for our guys.”
With its No. 6 ranking and a nation leading 30 wins, Tennessee has a big target on its back, against an Aggie team no doubt ready to prove themselves. Still, there’s something about playing on the road that the Vols love, and they are just as eager to take the series as Texas A&M is to defend its home.
“There is something that I know this team has always enjoyed doing,” Max Ferguson said. “And that’s going on the road and kind of being the bad guy in a sense. And that’s something that we do like doing, and we’re looking forward to it this weekend.”
The series will begin Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET, when Dallas (5-1, 3.97) faces off against Saenz (5-4, 3.91). The game will be broadcast on SEC Network +.