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This Week in UT Sports History – May 18th-24th

Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little

Though sports in 2020 remain uncertain, past events continue to offer entertainment for fanatics across the country. ESPN’s documentary series “The Last Dance,” which follows the 1990s Chicago Bulls, captivates basketball viewers while Southeastern Conference football fans get their fix with re-airings of SEC Network’s “Saturdays in the South,” a docuseries about the history of SEC football.

Until sports return, take a look back at “This Week in UT Sports History.”

May 18, 1918

The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 remains on the minds of many as the world anticipates a second wave of COVID-19, perhaps further shuttering sports. But 102 years ago, some sports continued amidst a pandemic. Kentucky State (now the University of Kentucky) traveled to Tennessee’s Wait Field to close out the baseball season that year.

The score made Vol fans sick.

“The Vols have become the most charitable in these days they literally handed over a baseball game last Saturday, platter and all, to the Kentucky state aggregation who romped away with the victory by the score of 4-1,” the Knoxville Sentinel reported. “Not one earned run did the visitors have to their credit, but they took advantage of the misplays committed by the Vols and had no difficulty winning an easy one.”

Tennessee only lost two games that season. With five errors, the Orange and White could not hang on to a one-loss season against the Wildcats. Poor base running decisions soiled the fourth inning as first baseman Magers failed to steal second and shortstop Callaway could not capitalize on a double.

“He then tried the Ty Cobb stuff by going to third, but he was nabbed by catcher Thomas with a perfect throw.”

Unlike Cobb, who held the record for stolen bases (892) until 1977, Callaway got caught and sauntered off the field. To the corresponding press, the Vols seemed apathetic. Something seemed “radically wrong with the think tanks” as a team with three hits in one inning failed to round the bases.

“Perhaps they were thinking of the fine vacation or what they are going to do when they reach training camp,” the Sentinel reported. “In all events, they did not have their minds on the task before them.”

With an influenza outbreak and World War I raging, distraction would be warranted. Nevertheless, fans left Wait Field disappointed.

May 22, 1951

The Vols now play on Robert M. Lindsay Field at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, which opened in 1993. The stadium’s namesake graduated from Tennessee in 1941 before serving in the U.S. Army in World War II acting as a war correspondent and public relations specialist. He founded the Vol Network as a play-by-play announcer in 1949.The first voice of the Vols, he broadcasted basketball and football games for Tennessee until his big break: his first Major League Baseball broadcast on May 22, 1951, the same year he took over as Tennessee’s sports information director.

Nelson went to Pittsburgh where he called the Brooklyn Dodgers’ defeat of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the Liberty Broadcasting System. As his career began announcing baseball games in Germany for the Armed Forces Network, Nelson eagerly made the transition from Tennessee athletics to the national stage.

Though he left the Vols, he continued covering college athletics, calling 26 Cotton Bowl Classics for CBS. He earned the title “Mr. New Year’s Day” with his signature phrase, “Happy New Year; this is Lindsey Nelson in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.” He also served as a television broadcaster for Notre Dame football and covered college football and basketball, NBA contests, professional golf (including the Masters), tennis, and baseball (including World Series) for NBC Sports and CBS.

Nelson went on the serve as the voice for both the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants. He retired to Knoxville, moving into an apartment on the Tennessee River across from the University of Tennessee campus.

May 22-23, 2009

Tennessee’s No. 2-ranked tennis stars Davey Sandgren and John-Patrick Smith spelled double trouble for Boise State as they hit the court in College Station, Texas, and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Doubles Championships in 2009. They beat their opponents in a 6-3, 7-5 victory to advance to the quarterfinal round against No. 7 Wake Forest.

With a record of 29-11, the doubles team picked up its 30th win of the season against the No. 43 team of Kean Feeder and James Meredith. Both Smith and Sandgren earned All-America honors with the match victory, but they knew work remained unfinished.

“We have a tough match tomorrow, and if we can just start the way we finished today, we should be fine,” Smith said. “We really picked it up towards the end. We made some good plays and executed well, so I think if we can keep doing that, then we should be fine tomorrow.”

The Demon Deacons stood poised to plague the Tennessee team. The 12th consecutive ranked opponent for the Vols, the Deacs stormed back in the second set after Tennessee started in top form in the first. The Vols took the first set 6-3.

“I thought we started really strong,” Sandgren said. “We made a lot of balls…[and] served well and returned well. We were really on top of our game for the first set. In the second set, I thought we kept that up.”

However, the Demon Deacons showed some life. Steve Forman hit a soaring winner Sandgren called “too good,” as the Vols dropped the set 6-7(4). But, Sandgren and Smith kept their sights set on the semifinals. With a break in the third, the Vols took a 6-3 win to advance.

“We [picked up our game] and just pulled through it,” Sandgren said. “[NBA star] LeBron James really inspired me last night.”

With the win, the duo advanced the furthest into the tournament for UT since 1996. Former head coach Chris Mahony and Pablo Montana reached the semifinals in 1996. Mel Purcell and Rodney Harmon won the doubles title in 1980. Sandgren and Smith went on to the finals in 2009.

Davey Sandgren is the older brother of professional tennis player and former Tennessee Vol Tennys Sandgren who has appeared in the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbeldon, and the U.S. Open.

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