The No. 9 Tennessee baseball team looks to continue its early success in the SEC as it will travel to Tuscaloosa to face-off against Alabama. The Vols are 22-4 overall and 5-1 in the SEC, while the Crimson Tide sit at 15-9 this season and 1-5 in the conference.
“Coach Bohannon has brought that program back to relevance in the SEC and yet another team you have to stress about, it’s not just the big four or five you have to label,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “They have a nice stadium to work with and they have put a lot of money into it. It’s helped them recruit since it has been there. They truly are a competitive SEC team with a legit Friday night guy and a lineup that is kind of like ours cause it’s diverse.”
The Vols are coming off a weekend series sweep of then-No.22 LSU and a midweek victory against Western Carolina.
Game one of the LSU series was an old-fashioned pitching duel. Tennessee starter Chad Dallas tossed 7.0 solid innings, allowing just five hits and a run while punching out career-high 11 batters. LSU countered with Landon Marceaux who allowed just two runs (one earned) and three hits against nine strikeouts over 5.0 innings of work. Drew Gilbert and Jake Rucker both platted runs in the bottom of the third to give Tennessee a 2-1 lead, while Pete Derkay added some insurance in the seventh to secure the 3-1 win.
Saturday’s evening affair was played until the top of the 9th inning, which was continued on Sunday due to weather. Evan Russell clubbed a career-high three home runs and five RBIs. Drew Gilbert tallied two hits and three RBIs too, including a walk-off home run in the 11th inning on Sunday morning. Kirby Connell pitched on Sunday after LSU scored five runs over the 7th and 8th inning. The reliever allowed just two hits and struck out four over 2.2 innings of work.
The finale ended on a walk-off hit by Luc Lipcius with the Vols capturing a 3-2 win and series sweep of the Tigers. While Tennessee’s offense struggled (six hits and four walks), its pitching did not. Blade Tidwell started and surrendered just two runs and eight hits over 5.2 innings and struck out seven. Sean Hunley allowed just a hit over 2.1 innings of work.
On Tuesday, Tennessee won 9-2 against the Catamounts after two true freshmen dominated. Kyle Booker recorded a career-best three runs, three RBIs and two hits, including his first-career home run. Jake Fitzgibbons earned the win after throwing 3.1 innings of one-hit ball with four strikeouts.
Alabama is coming off a sweep at the hands of No. 3 Ole Miss. They played a doubleheader on Friday, where the Tide lost 9-6 in game one and 2-0 in game two. Tyler Ras turned in a stellar start for Alabama (6.0 innings, five hits and one run), however, its bullpen blew the game. The ‘pen combined to go 3.0 innings, giving up seven hits, eight runs and two walks.
The Tide got another solid start in the second game of the doubleheader. Dylan Smith struck out eight batters over 7.0 innings and surrendered just one run. Alabama struggled mightily at the plate with just five hits compared to 12 strikeouts. Peyton Wilson tallied three hits at the top of the order.
“There two starters that they have named for the weekend are certainly legit, but the guys that come out of the bullpen are just guys who look the part and throw like it as well,” Vitello said. “I think that it’s a little bit of flexing that depth without their stud.”
Alabama’s bat came alive in the final game. Wilson slashed four hits on five attempts while adding an RBI and crossing home plate twice. T.J. Reeves drove in two runs on one a two-run home run. This time though the pitching couldn’t support the offense. Connor Shamblin threw 5.0 innings despite giving up four runs. Hunter Ruth and Grayson Hitt each gave up three runs out of the pen, leading to an 11-6 loss.
The top performers for the Tide include Wilson who leads his team in batting average (.343), runs (23), hits (35), home runs (seven), slugging% (.608), on-base percentage (.420) and stolen bases (seven). Zane Denton is slashing .319/.413/.553 including six home runs, 15 RBIs and four doubles. Chase Lee has a 0.00 ERA over 14.0 innings of work out of the bullpen. Dylan Smith has hurled a team-high 37.0 innings and a team-high 49 strikeouts, along with a 2.43 ERA.
Game one is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on Friday at Sewell-Thomas Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.