The No. 12 Tennessee baseball team defeated No. 22 LSU 3-1 Friday night, behind a brilliant start from Chad Dallas. The win was extra meaningful to the Vols (19-4, 3-1 SEC), as it was the first SEC game played in Knoxville since May 2019, as last year’s season was cut short due to the pandemic.
Here are three takeaways from the Vols’ win.
Dallas was dealing
Chad Dallas followed a tough start at Georgia with his best of the season. He worked a scoreless first inning, but allowed a solo home run to Gavin Dugas in the second.
“It was the first pitch of the inning, fastball like you said,” Dallas said on the home run. “Middle, kind of near the chest. It just shows how good that teams are in this league, and how good hitters are. They’ll make you pay for a mistake, and that kind of locked me back in.”
The home run was Dallas’ biggest mistake of the night, and he was locked in from that point on. He worked 7.0 innings in total, allowing just the one run, five hits and a walk. Dallas showed good command of his pitches. He pounded the zone with both his fastball and off-speed pitches, and racked up a career-high 11 strikeouts.
“I think the breaking ball and landing the cutter or slider and the curveball in the zone as much as I did, I think that was really big for me,” Dallas said. “They were sitting heater there for a while, so I had to throw more breaking balls than I was expecting to, but that was fine.”
Dallas has been solid as the Vols’ Friday night starter. He leads the team with 30.0 innings pitched, and has a 3.90 ERA, along with a team-high 43 strikeouts.
Keeping the pressure on
At first glance, the Vols’ offense doesn’t necessarily stand out on the final box score. Their three runs and four hits were enough to win the game, but was nothing spectacular. However, Tennessee did do one important thing, which was making LSU’s starter Landon Marceaux work. He brought a 0.00 ERA into the night, and had gone six or more innings in each of his four starts, but Tennessee kept the pressure on and got to him early.
Tennessee had competitive at-bats, often battling back from early two-strike counts. The Vols spoiled many good pitches, and drew three walks off Marceaux, driving his pitch count up. On top of that, he struck out nine batters, which did not help to lower his pitch count.
Tennessee finally got to Marceaux for two runs in the third inning. Jake Rucker drove in Liam Spence with an RBI triple, and then scored on a passed ball in the next at-bat, giving the Vols a 2-1 lead.
The Vols’ offensive effort resulted in Marceaux’s worst start of the season. He worked just five innings, which is tied for his shortest start of the year. He also allowed his first earned run of the season, raising his ERA to just 0.26.
“For us to make anything difficult for him,” Vitello said on the offense. “I know no one really hammered balls all over the park or anything like that, Jordan Beck had a nice line drive. But just to do anything against him is special for any team in our league, if you ask me. And out guys did it with a group effort.
The win tonight put Tennessee on the right track to win an all-important conference series. No SEC win will be easy this year, as it is home to some of the best teams in college baseball. Friday nights are especially tough in the SEC, as teams role out their best starters.
Despite the challenge, the Vols have done well in series openers this year. They are 6-0 in those games, and have outscored their opponents 35-16. Tennessee has been less dominant the next day, sporting a 4-3 record on Saturday games. The Vols can’t get carried away with tonight’s win, as LSU will start Jaden Hill tomorrow, another quality arm with electric stuff.
“I think it’s important to take this momentum that we got from today and carry it into tomorrow,” Drew Gilbert said. “A team like LSU or any other SEC team, they can come back and punch you in the mouth Saturday. So we’ve got to be ready to throw the first punch.”
First pitch in game two of the series is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET, with Will Heflin getting the starting nod. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network +.