Another weekend, another weekend of Tennessee baseball picking up three wins.
The Vols hit the field this past weekend for a three-game series with George Washington. Tony Vitello’s squad walked away with three wins and their third straight weekend sweep to remain undefeated on the season. Tennessee (12-0) beat the Colonials 7-1 on Friday, 7-3 on Saturday, and 10-0 on Sunday. UT outscored its opponent 24-4 on the weekend.
Tennessee entered the weekend ranked as the No. 19 team in the country according to D1Baseball.com. Following yet another an impressive outing, the Vols should be ranked as a top 20 team entering March.
These were the biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s sweep of George Washington to finish February 11-0 and begin March in the win column.
Tennessee hit two home runs in each game against George Washington. The homers were timely as well, as each one the Vols cranked out of Lindsey Nelson Stadium came while they were trailing or while the Colonials were within four runs of the lead.
On Friday afternoon, with the Vols trailing 1-0 in the seventh inning, Luc Lipcius hit his first home run of the season to tie the game and spark the offense. An inning later, Trey Lipscomb hit a grand slam to extend the lead to 7-1 and put the game away. The grand slam was Lipscomb’s first career home run.
Drew Gilbert hit his first career home run on Saturday with the Vols trailing 3-0 in the third inning. In the seventh inning of the series-clinching win, Alerick Soularie hit a solo home run to extend the Tennessee lead to 5-3.
Connor Pavolony cranked his third home run of the season out of the park on Sunday. Pavolony smacked a fastball over the left field fence in the first inning to give the Vols a 2-0 lead. Then in the fifth inning, Lipcius hit his second home run of the weekend to give Tennessee a 7-0 lead and put the game away.
The Vols have now hit 22 home runs on the season, which is the most by any team in all of college baseball. Tennessee has hit more home runs this season than runs its pitching staff has allowed (20).
Soularie Starting to Heat Up
Tennessee’s Preseason All-American outfielder didn’t get off to the start this season that he had hoped. In the first eight games of the season, Soularie tallied eight hits. The Texas native was hitting .179 at the plate with one home run and five RBI.
Against George Washington, Soularie was 4-for-9 with a home run, three RBI, and two walks. Soularie didn’t record a hit on Sunday, but he went 2-for-3 on Friday and 2-for-4 on Saturday.
“I’ve just been trying to tone it down in the box,” Soularie said following Saturday’s game. “I know I’ve been trying to do too much when I go to the plate.
“Just staying short to the ball,” Soularie added on his lone home run over the weekend. “I knew they were going to come fastball because I was behind on a couple of pitches in my previous at-bat. Just trying to get the head out on the fastball.”
Soularie believes he’s improved the most in the mental phase of the game. Last year, he was putting too much pressure on himself to produce at the plate to the point to where he would get down on himself. Over the last couple of games, he hasn’t been putting that pressure on himself.
“Extreme difference in effort,” Vitello said. “His two home runs are probably the two swings he’s had the least amount of effort with.
“We ask our guys to swing with conviction, but he really tried to force the issue out of the gate. That’s usually the problem with any baseball player when they’re not doing well. For him, he can really afford to let it be free and easy because he’s really gifted and pretty strong for his size.”
Soularie left Sunday’s game in the fifth inning after stealing second base. He hit his head on the shortstop’s knee in the process of sliding before laying on the ground for a couple of minutes. He was able to walk off the field, but he couldn’t do so without the help of trainers.
“He’s good,” Vitello said afterwards. “A little bit of a scare when you get hit on the head… He did protocol back there and he’s good to go.”
Pavolony Finding Himself at the Plate
No position on the baseball field affects the game more than the catcher’s position. Not only is the starting catcher guaranteed three at-bats, but he touches the baseball on every single pitch. Through 12 games, the Vols have had a great quarterback at the plate and behind the plate guiding their pitching staff.
Pavolony has been terrific. Every pitcher is always quick to point out the sophomore’s ability to call a game along with pitching coach Frank Anderson. With the bat in his hand, Pavolony is hitting .333 at the plate with a team-best three home runs and 11 RBI. His 11 runs driven in this season are the second-most on the team.
“I grounded myself in my faith and understood who I am,” Pavolony said on Sunday. “You’ll never be able to outperform your self-image. I see myself as the best player on the field every time I step in the box. Whether or not I am, as long as I have that in my head, I have the opportunity to be the best player on the field.”
Against George Washington, Pavolony was 2-for-7 at the plate with a home run and three runs driven in. Pavolony was 2-for-3 with a run scored, a home run, and three RBI during the series finale on Sunday.
“Pav has led the way,” Vitello said of Pavolony’s relationships with the pitchers. “That’s why he’s kind of our No. 1 (catcher).”
Freshman Asserting Himself
Good luck finding a freshman in the country who has been more productive than Drew Gilbert.
The Minnesota native currently owns a batting average of .375 and an ERA of 1.42. Gilbert’s batting average is the second-highest on the team, and his earned run average is the fourth-best among Tennessee pitchers who have pitched at least 6.0 innings.
“He’s (Gilbert) a spark plug,” Vitello said. “He’s a spark plug on the mound, when he’s in the field, at the plate. He has lightning quick hands.”
“That all reverts back to Coach (Vitello), just letting everybody be who they are,” Gilbert added. “Obviously I’m a very energetic player, so him allowing me to be who I am really helps me perform.”
Against George Washington, Gilbert was 6-for-11 at the plate with his first career home run, seven runs scored, and an RBI. On the mound, the lefty pitched a scoreless eighth inning. He allowed two hits, but he didn’t allow a run or a walk.
“He’s really talented,”Vitello said. “I don’t know that we’ve ever put more into recruiting a guy, and then flip it when he showed up on campus. He went from high-maintenance to absolutely no-maintenance.
“He just likes competing, and the team camaraderie thing, so it’s a really good fit.”
Wallace Takes a Step Back
Chase Wallace entered the 2020 season following a great offseason. Wallace had a terrific fall and winter, and he has had a solid start to the season. But he hasn’t pitched to his potential. Saturday’s start against the Colonials left a lot to be desired.
“A little bit of maybe trying to go back in time and pitch incredibly well, instead of just well,” Vitello said of Wallace’s outing against George Washington. “The first outing (vs. Western Illinois), he was true to himself. The second outing (vs. Houston) wasn’t as good.
“I don’t know if he either hears me talking or sees the writing on the wall, but he didn’t throw that great last weekend.”
Against Western Illinois, Wallace picked up the win in his first outing of the season. He allowed two hits and one walk in 5.2 scoreless innings of work while picking up six strikeouts. In his next outing against the Cougars, he allowed three runs on three hits and two walks in 4.1 innings.
This weekend, Wallace only pitched four innings. He allowed two earned runs on four hits and three walks.
“This weekend, for a moment there, (he) took a step backwards,” Vitello said. “I don’t know if he’s trying to be perfect or redo that outing or whatever. I can’t get inside of his head, but he didn’t have the same body language or presence that we’ve been bragging on him about having since the start of the year. But, when you give your team a chance to win when you’re a starter, you did your job.
“If anything, Chase, the stat he needs to look at is Redmond (Walsh) threw one more inning and 30 less pitches than he did. With stuff that good, he just needs to try and cram it down the opponents throat. Every now and then it’s not going to work out, but I bet a lot of times it will.
Tennessee had two midweek games last week. This week, the Vols have just one midweek game. They’ll welcome Longwood (3-9) to Knoxville on Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. ET.
The Vols will then host Wright State (2-8) for a three-game series beginning on Friday. It’ll be the last weekend series before SEC play begins.