No. 18 Tennessee was swept by Indiana State on Saturday, losing game two and three of the four-game series with the Sycamores. UT dropped game one of the doubleheader 3-1 to lose its first game of the season, and then lost 7-5 in the second game.
The Vols (6-2) will look to avoid losing the weekend series on Sunday. The best they’ll be able to do with a win is even up the series after they won game one on Friday night 4-3.
Tennessee struggled to drive in runs on Saturday. In game one, the Vols were 3-for-17 at the plate with runners on base, 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-3 with runners on third and less than two outs.
“You saw a lot of guys not do a good job with two strikes,” Vols head baseball coach Tony Vitello said after the game. “A few guys didn’t cover the outer-half with some pitches. Other guys were out front, some guys took big hacks with two strikes when you would have liked to have seen them take that earlier in the count.
“The at-bats weren’t good with the bases loaded, but they weren’t really good all day long. Right away, we’re out front way too many times. Our first inning of the day, all three outs were the exact same way. First pitch of the at-bat, and our guys were all out front.”
Failure to drive in runs was the reason behind the loss in game one, as it received a good pitching performance from true freshman Blade Tidwell (L, 0-1) and senior Will Heflin. Tidwell made his second career start and gave up just one earned run on four hits in 4.0 innings of work. He struck out six on 81 pitches.
“Blade pitched kind of like he did last week,” Vitello said of Tidwell’s performance. “Well enough to give us an opportunity to win. Nothing dynamic. Kind of like Chad Dallas — slowly building his pitch count up if he’s going to be one of our starters.”
Heflin was just as strong on the mound. The left-hander allowed one earned run on four hits in 4.2 innings pitched as he kept Tennessee in the game while the bats tried to get going. UT had a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth, but a critical base-running mistake helped end the threat and hand the Vols their first loss of the season.
Pitching wasn’t as strong in the second game of the doubleheader. Junior Elijah Pleasants (L, 0-1) made his second start of the season and only lasted 2.0 innings. He allowed five earned runs on two walks and four hits. After Pleasants allowed the first two hitters of the third inning to reach, he was pulled for Camden Sewell.
“Elijah, from my vantage point, wasn’t executing the pitches that was being called by (pitching) Coach (Frank) Anderson and also ran into a little bit of a buzzsaw,” Vitello said. “We gave them a lot of juice. They earned it by getting a win in game one, but by losing that first game we gave them a lot of juice. Their hitters were incredibly dialed in after feeling pretty good about themselves.”
Sewell lasted 2.1 innings in relief and allowed two earned runs on three hits. He struck out two and walked two before handing the ball over to sophomore Kirby Connell in the fifth inning with the Vols trailing 7-0.
Connell’s outing was critical. The left-hander pitched 4.1 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing the bats a chance to wake up a bit and crawl back in the game with a five-run sixth inning courtesy of a two-run double from Liam Spence and two-run single from Jake Rucker. Drew Gilbert brought in the fifth run on an RBI groundout.
“Kirby is the biggest thing that I takeaway,” Vitello said. “I always try to be positive and that was the biggest takeaway, but there were too many negatives today and a lot of them were from adjustments we need to make or bad habits we picked up.
“And today’s not the only day those have gone on. We’ve just been good enough either on the mound of competitiveness-wise, or we’ve gotten a hit at the right time to where we’ve been able to overcome those. I don’t know our record is directly reflective of how well we’re executing.”
Though the bats were able to wake up a little bit in the sixth inning, Tennessee struggled to string together good innings for the most parts. After leaving several runners on base in the first game, the Vols stranded the bases loaded in both the fourth and fifth inning. They finished the game 6-for-23 with runners on base and 3-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
On the day, Tennessee was 9-for-40 with runners on base and 4-for-17 with runners in scoring position.
“V’s message was a fired up version of what it always is and that’s ‘determination is one of the best assets in this game,'” Heflin said of Vitello’s message after the game. “There’s two types of people in baseball. The humbled and the about to be humbled. One of the most dangerous things you can think is ‘I have it figured out’ because this is game where you’re always learning and making adjustments.”
Sunday’s series finale is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET. Tennessee has not yet announced who will be on the mound.
“We’ll adjust from today and roll in tomorrow with a lot of determination,” Heflin said.