No. 1 Tennessee handled its midweek test with ease this week, defeating Bellarmine with a comfortable 9-3 win after overcoming a slow start.
The Vols got off to a slower-than-usual start, going scoreless until the fourth inning. The Vols' pitching did its job, keeping Bellarmine off the board with them.
Tennessee didn’t get its first hit until the bottom of the fourth – its previous run came after a slew of walks and errors – and from there, the Vols didn’t look back.
“We weren’t taking bad swings, we were just hitting the ball right at people,” Jorel Ortega said. “We weren’t really worried about it.”
With bases loaded, Kyle Booker hit a base-clearing double to right center to give the Vols a quick 4-0 lead. On the next at-bat, Logan Steenstra hit one deep down the right field line to drive in Booker and make it a 5-0 lead for the Vols.
Bellarmine answered quickly, hitting a three-run homer to make it just a two-run game in the top of the sixth.
Tennessee put the game away across the seventh, eighth and ninth inning, tacking on four runs to make it a 9-3 lead.
The Vols went back to Zander Sechrist on Tuesday, who has started a few midweek games this season and picked up two wins. He got his third win of the season Tuesday night behind a dominant first four innings.
“He’s awesome,” Ortega said. “That’s a guy that’s going to punish the strike zone all day. That’s what you want out of a pitcher.”
Sechrist kept Bellarmine scoreless and hitless in his appearance, retiring 13 consecutive batters before coming out in the top of the fourth, though the coaching staff thought he could’ve gone for longer if he needed to.
“We really didn’t want to,” assistant coach Josh Elander said. “He was throwing the ball well and all his pitches were strikes. He was attacking all quadrants of the zone. It would’ve been nice to leave him back out there and let him run a little bit, but we wanted to make sure we got a lot of guys reps tonight.”
Sechrist focused on working fast. He made it through four innings in just over an hour.
“I’m always a guy who works pretty fast,” Sechrist said. “That’s the way Frank likes to keep things and that’s the way I like to run things.”
Ortega continued what has been a hot stretch recently. The second basemen had eight hits in the series against Alabama over the weekend and he didn’t slow down Tuesday. He was 3-for-5 at the plate, hitting a home run and a triple.
“It gives me better confidence at the plate, playing defense,” Ortega said. “When you’re playing well everything you do you feel good about.”
While Ortega has been swinging the bat well recently, he has also been fielding the ball cleanly, making plays he might have struggled with earlier in the season.
“I think with our strength staff here we work on agility and foot speed a lot and I think that’s years of hard work,” Elander said. “You’ve got a lot of different people that have incredibly high standards for defense around here… The credit goes to (Ortega) because it came just as important to him as swinging the bat and we’ve started to see him play really good defense again.”