Blake Burke- Baseball

Tennessee freshman infielder Blake Burke, No. 25, during the Vols' win 13-3 over Butler at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

No. 1 Tennessee picked up a 5-2 win over Georgia in the first game of a three-game series Thursday night, improving to 44-6 on the season and 21-4 in conference play.

The Vols turned to their old friend the home run in the win, hitting three long balls after a slow offensive showing last week.

“To me, our guys need to think we’re in playoff mode right now,” head coach Tony Vitello said. “And I know the team we faced last weekend, Kentucky, was in that mode.”

Trey Lipscomb picked up his 20th homer of the season in the bottom of the second with a solo shot to left field to give the Vols an early lead, but Georgia quickly responded with one of its own.

Blake Burke, the freshman designated hitter, was the offensive spark for the Vols Thursday night, as he hit two homers in the fourth and seventh to give Tennessee some breathing room.

Burke’s two home runs move his season total to nine.

“I’m just trusting my work that I’ve been putting in,” Burke said. “Just trusting my abilities and trying to put my best move on the ball.”        

Chase Dollander got his first start on the mound since mid-April, and he didn’t disappoint. The sophomore right-hander allowed just three hits and a run, picking up six strikeouts in six innings on the mound. Dollander retired 17 of the 20 batters he faced.

“It felt really good to come in there and throw strikes where I normally do and be me,” Dollander said.

Chase Burns, the Vols’ usual game one starter, came in for Dollander in the seventh and picked up three strikeouts to start his night, but didn’t stay on for long after getting Tennessee in a jam.

“Sometimes when guys come out of the pen versus starting, there’s a little less off-the-throttle type approach in that heightened sense of intensity,” Vitello said.

Redmond Walsh, Tennessee’s seasoned closer, came on for the save. He picked up a strikeout to leave a runner stranded at third and get Tennessee out of dangerous situation.

Evan Russell had a clutch RBI-single to drive in Drew Gilbert in the eighth to give the Vols some insurance with a 5-2 lead.

After a weekend where Tennessee looked nothing like themselves, the Vols return to their normal selves Thursday, a crucial bounce back late in the season.

“I think it gives us a little extra juice seeing that we were still capable of doing what we’ve been doing all year,” Dollander said. “Having that and going forward that’s a huge thing for us, just having that extra confidence and extra juice.”

With the win Thursday night, Tennessee inched closer to its first SEC championship since 1995. If Tennessee wins all three of its games this weekend and Arkansas loses all three to Vanderbilt, the Vols will clinch the championship. If Tennessee wins at least two and Arkansas drops two, the Vols will share the title with the Razorbacks.  

The Vols look to get one win closer to the SEC title in game two against the Bulldogs on Friday at 5:30 p.m. EST.

Note: A previous version of this article said the final score of the game was 4-2.

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