A young Tennessee baseball team showed an impressive amount of fight in a rainy, cold weekend series with No. 1 Florida. After losing games one and two, they were able to pull out a hard fought victory in the series finale over the defending national champions.
Here is our series wrap-up of the Vols’ weekend series against No. 1 Florida.
Game 1: Florida 22 vs Tennessee 6
First pitch came two hours earlier than anticipated due to weather, and on a cold, rainy day, attendance was low.
The low energy in the stadium may have had an effect on the team too. It was a rough game for the Vols, especially for the defense, which made five errors.
Garrett Crochet took the mound for the Vols, while the Gators started top MLB prospect Brady Singer. Both pitchers got off to a hot start, combining for three strikeouts in the first inning.
Florida, however, got the best of Crochet in the second, scoring five runs off a pair of home runs.
Nico Mascia was able to stay hot and doubled off the centerfield wall to give the Vols their first hit of the day. He was later brought home on a fielder’s choice, trimming the Gator’s lead down to 5-1.
“Singer throws really hard, so at that point at 3-1, you gotta go up there and sit fastball. If that’s what you get, you gotta just take a swing at it,” explained Mascia after the game.
Tennessee kept chipping away at the lead, bringing it to 5-3 in the fourth off a Leftridge opposite field double. That was as close as it got though, as Florida blew things open in the fifth, scoring seven runs in the inning off four Tennessee errors.
“Sometimes that’s what happens in the league and in the games. These guys (Florida) are really good so they give you no room for error,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said after Game 1 of the series.
Florida scored seven more runs in the sixth, and they eventually won 22-6.
Crochet was the losing pitcher in this one, throwing 4.1 innings, surrendering eight earned runs off eight hits while striking out seven.
On a positive note, catcher Benito Santiago homered in the seventh, his second game in a row with a home run. But there weren’t much positives to take away for Tennessee in the first game.
Game 2: Florida 6 vs Tennessee 4 (11 innings)
The weather was far kinder for an early Sunday start as the Vols and Gators squared off for a double header. Football coach Jeremy Pruitt threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and the first game was underway.
It was supposed to be a condensed game, as the teams were slated to play just seven innings each game on account of the double header. But the first game of the double header went into extras and ended up lasting 11 innings.
Defense plagued the Vols on Saturday, but for the majority of Game 2, it was a strength. Tennessee led most of the game but couldn’t hold on in the seventh inning, blowing a perfect chance to upset the nation’s top team.
Justin Ammons got the Vols on the board early with an RBI single in the bottom of the first. Pete Derkay followed that up with an RBI single of his own in the second, extending the lead to 2-0. It was an impressive start for a team that had been beaten 22-6 just 12 hours before.
Garrett Stallings had an impressive start, holding one of the top offenses in the country to just three runs over six and a third innings pitched. He only got into two three-ball counts the entire game and did a fantastic job working the inside half of the plate. He mixed in off-speed pitches wonderfully and kept the Gators offense off balance all day.
Stallings pitched to contact a lot, but his defense had his back behind him. Then the seventh inning came around, and everything fell apart.
After getting the first out, Stallings got the batter to pop up to center. A misread by the center fielder allowed the ball to drop in, however, and Vitello decided to put in Linginfelter to try and close things out.
Linginfelter was able to retire the first batter, then Johnathan India reached first on an intentional walk. With two outs, Tennessee-native Will Dalton drove a ball to right. In all likelihood, it should have been caught to win the game, but instead Florida scored two and took the lead.
It looked like hope was lost, as Florida brought out star closer Michael Byrne to finish it off. The Vols kept battling, though, and Chinea got himself into scoring position after a single and some smart baserunning. A two out single from Ammons tied this one up and sent it into extras, giving Byrne his first blown save of the year.
The Vols had several opportunities to score, but they could never get the winning run home. The game went all the way into the 11th, and Linginfelter stayed on the mound for Tennessee. Florida finally broke through and scored the go-ahead runs in the top half of the inning. Tennessee couldn’t battle back this time, and Florida took Game 2 and the series victory.
Game 3: Tennessee 6 vs Florida 4 (7 innings)
Despite two tough losses, the Vols never got distraught. Tennessee came out firing from the first pitch and were able to jump on Florida early in the final game of the series.
Liput homered in the top of the first for the Gators, giving them an early 1-0 lead. But it was all Vols from there.
In the third inning, Tennessee exploded for six runs, knocking pitcher Tyler Dyson out of the game in just two and one third innings.
Pete Derkay got things started with a three RBI double. He later scored on a passed ball. Jay Charleston later singled, driving in two more, and the Vols were suddenly up 6-1.
The Gators tried to battle back, but pitcher Will Neely was dealing. He shut Florida down the majority of the afternoon. Florida made things closer, but never truly threatened to take this one back, and Tennessee was able to pull off the upset win over the top team in the country.
It was a frustratingly positive weekend for a young team with a first-year coach. They very easily could have, and arguably should have, won both games Sunday.
“It’s good to get one,” Pete Derkay said after Sunday’s games. “We are a little bitter. We should have had two. We are just one play away. That’s how baseball works.”
Tennessee’s offense was very impressive this weekend, hitting the ball very well against the elite pitching staff of the Florida Gators.
“I think we talked all along about rising to the challenge,” Vitello said on Sunday. “If you’re a true competitor, you want it tough. … You want to measure yourself up against the best. Those three guys are going to pitch in the big leagues at some point.
“What better way to go out on a baseball field and see whether you can handle your bat and get in the box and compete with some confidence.”
The Vols are now 19-14 on the year and 5-7 in the conference, good enough for a tie for fifth in the East.
This weekend is something this team can build on, and they will need to keep winning games against the stout competition in the conference if they want to make it to the SEC Tournament.