In its SEC home debut, the No. 12 Tennessee baseball team won 3-1 in game one against No. 22 LSU, after a dominant start by Chad Dallas and clutch hitting by Drew Gilbert. The Vols improved to 19-4 overall and 3-1 in the SEC after the win. The Tigers fall to 16-6 on the year and 1-3 in the conference.
“I think it had a little something extra to it maybe even relative to others,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “I think there have been games like the Georgia Southern game on Sunday and Saturday as well. The ETSU game. When it’s close and two teams are trying to win and there are extra things that are going on, then there is extra emotion to it.”
The Vols only had four hits on the night, but they were big ones. Gilbert drove in a crucial run in the seventh. Jake Rucker reached base three times, including an RBI triple. Connor Pavolony got on base, walking twice.
LSU struggled offensively as well. The Tigers recorded just five hits and struck out 12 times to only two walks. They scored just one run and left six runners on base. Gavin Dugas drove in the lone run for LSU after going 1-for-3 at the plate.
The Tigers struck first with a second-inning bomb from Dugas. Their lead didn’t last long, as the Vols answered in the bottom of the third inning. Jake Rucker tripled to center field, as LSU outfielder Mitchell Sanford came up short on a diving try, and Liam Spence scored on the play. Next up was Gilbert, who struck out swinging, but Rucker would score on the dropped third strike, grabbing a 2-1 lead for Tennessee.
“I think one of the things we preach is to just get guys into scoring position,” Gilbert said. “We’d like to get them in, but in this lead, it’s not always going to happen. You are always playing a good team. It’s just something that we want to keep doing by putting pressure on the defense and getting guys in scoring position.”
The Vols would enjoy some insurance at the bottom of the seventh. Pete Derkay and Rucker were both put on the bases with one out in the inning. Gilbert came to the plate and slashed the second pitch of the at-bat to right-center field to plate the third run of the game for the Vols, helping to ensure the 3-1 victory.
Dallas earned the start of the bump and had a career-day. He went 7.0 innings, tying a career-high and struck out a career-high 11 batters. The Orange, Texas native scattered just five hits and a run throughout the night to earn his fourth win of the season. Sean Hunley entered the game from the pen, and threw two shutout innings.
“I think the breaking ball and landing the cutter or slider and the curveball in the zone as much as I did was really big for me,” Dallas said. “They were sitting heater for a while, so I had to throw a little more breaking balls than I was expecting to, which was fine. We kept throwing it and landing it and we kept getting them to chase. They are some pretty good hitter so they eventually stopped chasing so we had to punch it in the zone and trust the guys behind me.”
LSU countered with Landon Marceaux who finished the game with two runs (one earned), three hits, three walks and nine strikeouts. Aaron George and Will Hellmers entered in relief, and combined to allow one hit and one run with four walks.
Game two will begin at 6 p.m. tomorrow. The probable starters for tomorrow’s game will be Tennessee’s Will Heflin and LSU’s Jaden Hill.