It was the first time Tennessee’s baseball program had played in the NCAA Tournament in 14 years. But their re-entrance into the Big Dance didn’t go as planned.
Not only did the two-seed Vols have to wait several hours after an extended weather delay prolonged the North Carolina vs. UNC-Wilmington match-up prior to UT’s game, but Tennessee came out ice cold against three-seed Liberty once they did take the field.
The Vols began play three hours later than scheduled because of a torrential downpour that delayed the North Carolina vs. UNC-Wilmington game in the ninth inning. The two teams were tied at 6 when lightning struck in the area, causing them to move off the field and pull the tarp over the diamond. Then a deluge hit the area, and it took three hours before play could resume.
Once the game resumed, North Carolina won on a walk-off thanks to an error by the Seahawks.
At 10:00 PM Eastern, Tennessee and Liberty finally got to face-off. And the Vols were caught sleepwalking early on.
The Vols gave up an early two-run home run to Jonathon Embry in the top of the first inning, and that would actually be all the scoring Liberty would need to do. But they would also add an RBI double by Tyler Galazin going into the fourth inning, and the Flames added two more runs in the seventh to extend their lead to 6-0.
Tennessee didn’t get on the board until the bottom of the seventh when Evan Russell smacked a solo home run. Up till that point, Liberty’s Mason Meyer was dealing and shutting out the Vols. He finished the game allowing just one run on five hits in 6.1 innings of work.
That would be all the damage Tennessee could do, as the Vols fell 6-1 to Liberty in the opening round of the Chapel Hill Regional.
Garrett Stallings got the start for the Vols, but he looked all out of sorts. He only pitched 5.1 innings and allowed four runs (three earned) on 10 hits. Stallings is UT’s ace, but he looked ineffective and unlike himself on the mound against Liberty.
Not only that, but Stallings didn’t have a lot of defensive help from the Vols behind him, either.
Tennessee committed three errors on the night, and one of them led to a Liberty run. The Vols only had one player get more than one hit on the evening, and that was Evan Russell who finished 2-for-4 at the plate with the team’s only RBI and run scored.
Liberty, meanwhile, had four players with multiple hits in the game, and they committed no errors as a team.
Now, the Vols will face elimination on Saturday. And they’ll be playing on a very quick turnaround.
The Vols will take on UNC-Wilmington in the losers bracket of the Chapel Hill Regional, and first pitch is scheduled for around noon Eastern. Tennessee’s game with Liberty didn’t end until about 1:00 AM Eastern, meaning the Vols are playing on about an 11-hour turnaround. UNC-Wilmington is playing on very short rest as well, as their game with the Tar Heels didn’t end until about 9:00 Eastern. But the Vols are obviously working on a much shorter time crunch.
The Tennessee and UNC-Wilmington game will be streamed on ESPN3 and on the ESPN app. We will update if any weather delays are incoming.