Few Vols within Tennessee’s baseball program generated as much buzz over the offseason as junior pitcher Chase Wallace did.
Wallace proved why on Saturday, making his first career start and guiding Tennessee (2-0) to a 19-0 win over Western Illinois (0-2) in game two of the three-game series. The win clinched the Vols’ first series win of the season.
The right-handed pitcher out of Sevier County picked up the win in his first start. Wallace (W, 1-0) threw 72 pitches in 5.2 scoreless innings of work, 47 of which were strikes. He gave up two hits, struck out six, and walked just one batter.
“We saw the Chase (Wallace) that’s been Chase all junior year,” coach Tony Vitello said following the game. “The way he’s pitched all junior season, literally the whole time, has been as a Friday night type pitcher, and I thought he did that today.”
Wallace only ran into trouble once, which came in the third inning when Western Illinois managed to load the bases. After a quick mound visit from pitching coach Frank Anderson, Wallace got the Leathernecks’ best hitter to pop out to second.
“(Frank Anderson) told me to take a deep breath and to calm down,” Wallace said. “He honestly told me what pitch to throw next and that was about it.
“I was just throwing it in the zone and letting the defense work. The first two innings, I threw nothing but fastballs.”
Tennessee mustered just three runs on Friday afternoon in its season opener. A day later, Wallace and the pitching staff received plenty of run support.
UT scored right off the bat in the bottom of the first inning. After Zach Daniels reached on a walk, the junior outfielder advanced to third, ultimately scoring on a balk. In the second inning, Liam Spence recorded his first career hit as a Vol, hitting an RBI single up the middle.
“I don’t think we have the best offense in the country, but we’re certainly not the worst either,” Vitello said. “We started a little slow early, partly due to Western Illinois’ pitching, but also not getting it going the way we need to. They finally shed themselves of a little bit too much of an adrenaline rush.”
Tennessee scored two runs over the first four innings. It then proceeded to score 16 combined runs in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings on the way to scoring 19 runs, which is the most runs scored during the Vitello era.
In the fifth inning, Evan Russell got things going with an RBI single before Landon Gray drove in a two-run double. Trey Lipscomb then hit an RBI single. Following Lipscomb’s single, Gray scored on a balk to round out the six-spot the Vols put on the board in the fifth.
Tennessee tacked on three in the sixth inning to push its lead to 13-0. Drew Gilbert made his first career appearance as a Vol, hitting a two-run double as a pinch-hitter. The freshman then scored on an RBI groundout off of the bat of Alerick Soularie.
The Vols broke out the big bats in the seventh inning. After Lipscomb scored on a wild pitch, Daniels launched a massive three-run home run over the left field fence for his first homer of the season. A couple of batters later, sophomore Austin Knight clubbed the first home run of his career, a three-run shot to put Tennessee up 18-0.
“We got a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things,” Daniels said. “We have a lot of guys who can swing it and put the ball over the fence, we have a lot of speed. We have a lot of guys who can get the job done.”
Gilbert drove in the final run of the game in the eighth inning on an RBI single. After driving in his third run of the game, he saw action on the mound. Gilbert allowed one hit in one scoreless inning of work, and he struck out three.
“He’s one of our best players,” Vitello said of Gilbert. “He sat there for a game and a half on the bench and was energetic and cheering for his teammates. Then when he got his opportunity, he showed you what he can do.
“He can affect the game on both sides of the ball. A lot of the accolades or attention he acquired was on the mound, but he’s got a really good swing and incredible hand speed. He’s equally as good offensively.”
Tennessee’s season-opening series win marks the second consecutive year the Vols have opened up the season with a series win. Last season, the Vols didn’t allow a run in their first four games. They’ve yet to allow a run this season through two games.
“When this group just plays, they’re pretty exciting,” Vitello said.
The Vols go for the sweep of Western Illinois on Sunday at 12 p.m. ET.