Tennessee’s baseball team is off to its best start since 2014 following a sweep of Indiana.
The Vols (7-0) broke out the brooms on Sunday afternoon, defeating the Hoosiers 5-3. Sunday’s victory followed a 5-1 win over Indiana on Friday and an 11-0 win on Saturday. On the weekend, Tennessee outscored Indiana 21-4.
After sweeping Appalachian State last weekend, the Vols have recorded back-to-back sweeps to begin the season for the first time since 2014. That season, Tennessee swept Purdue and UNLV in the opening month. It’s the first time the Vols have recorded consecutive weekend sweeps since 2017 when they won all three games at the Tony Gwynn Classic and then swept Norfolk State.
“It gives you a little bit of room for error,” head coach Tony Vitello said of the sweep following the game. “All in all, every time you get a chance to win a game, every team in the country wants to do it.”
On Sunday, Indiana jumped on the Vols early, scoring three runs in the first four innings. The Hoosiers led 3-0 midway through the fourth. Senior Will Neely received the start but struggled. The right-hander pitched just 2.2 innings. On 48 pitches, Neely struck out three and allowed two hits.
“It just kind of seemed to be a day where Will (Neely) was sliding,” Vitello said. “He just didn’t have his best stuff.
“I expect Will to go out and have a great outing next outing because he’ll be motivated and well-rested.”
With the Hoosiers simply putting the barrel on the ball, sophomore Garrett Crochet entered in relief. Crochet promptly shut down Indiana, pitching 5.1 innings and striking out nine to tie his career-high. The left-hander only allowed one run and walked a single Hoosier.
“He (Crochet) was really getting through that slider pretty good, making a couple of guys look bad.” Vitello said. “He was throwing the slider to the back foot aggressively.”
Crochet not only worked out of a jam in the third, but his dominance on the mound also sparked Tennessee’s offense.
In the bottom of the fourth, Max Ferguson hit an RBI groundout to finally put the Vols on the board. Tennessee then exploded for three runs in the fifth thanks to a bases-clearing double from Andre Lipcius. The hit gave UT a 4-3 lead.
Tennessee picked up another run – and its last of the day – on an RBI single from Justin Ammons in the sixth. Following a one-two-three inning from Andrew Schultz in which he retired the side in the ninth, the Vols were in the win column. The save marked Schultz’s second of the season.
Here are our takeaways from Tennessee’s impressive weekend.
Whole lot of K’s
Tennessee received back-to-back dominating starts from Garrett Stallings and Zach Linginfelter to begin the series. And though it wasn’t from a starter, Crochet turned in a third dominating performance on Sunday.
On Friday, Stallings pitched seven innings, allowing just one run and not allowing any walks. Though he allowed the first run of the season, Stallings struck out a career-high nine batters. The run he allowed was the first run Tennessee had allowed in 42.2 innings dating back to last season. On the season, Stallings is 2-0 with an ERA of 0.64 in 14.0 innings of work.
Linginfelter followed up Stallings’ dominating performance with a masterpiece of his own. The right-hander struck out 13, one shy of his career-high. In six innings of shutout work, Linginfelter allowed just two hits.
In Linginfelter’s outing, Tennessee as a team struck out 21 batters. The 21 strikeouts tied a program record that was set last season in a game with Missouri. Along with Linginfelter’s 13 strikeouts, Chase Wallace and Camden Sewell each struck out three while Chase Silseth had two strikeouts.
The strikeouts continued to pile up on Sunday, as Crochet tied his career-high with nine strikeouts. After recording 46 strikeouts on the weekend, Tennessee’s pitching staff has now combined for 89 strikeouts in 63.0 innings of work.
Crochet, Stallings and Schultz have all tied or set career-highs in strikeouts.
Bats come to life
Against Appalachian State last weekend, Tennessee totaled just 11 runs. On Saturday and Sunday, the Vols won just 2-0, and 3-0, respectively.
In the three-game series with Indiana, UT combined to score 21 runs, including 11 runs in a win on Saturday night despite a rain delay.
During Saturday’s game, Tennessee was 10-for-34 at the plate and 7-for-23 with runners on base. With runners in scoring position, UT was 6-of-22. But even more impressive, with runners on third and two outs, they were 4-of-6.
On Friday night, Tennessee was just as successful at the plate, tallying 10 hits. Though leadoff hitters led off the inning with a hit just once, the Vols hit .357 with runners on base.
The bats cooled off in the series finale on Sunday, recording just six hits in 29 at-bats. With two outs, UT was just 1-of-9. They were 3-of-13 with runners on and 2-of-10 with runners in scoring position. On the weekend, Tennessee was 11-for-42 with runners in scoring position and hit .268 (26-of-97) at the plate.
Individually, Evan Russell led the Vols. Russell was 6-of-12 at the plate with four runs scored, two RBI, and two doubles. Lipcius also drove in three runs as he cleared the bases with a double on Sunday.
After beginning the season 7-0, Tennessee will play Liberty on Tuesday and Middle Tennessee State on Wednesday. Following back-to-back home games, the Vols will head to Pensacola, Florida to participate in Cox Diamond Invitational.
In what will be Tennessee’s first games away from Lindsey Nelson Stadium, the Vols will face Louisiana Monroe on Friday, North Florida on Saturday, and Western Kentucky on Sunday. UT will then stop in Hoover, Alabama on March 5th for a contest with Troy.
“We take every game as it’s down day,” Vols third baseman Andre Lipcius said. “We’re working hard every single day and outworking people.”
Following the four-game road trip, Tennessee will face Fresno State in a three-game series beginning on March 8.