True freshman Blade Tidwell dominated on the mound to lead No. 13 Tennessee to a 4-1 win over Georgia on Sunday afternoon to secure the Vols’ first series win to open up conference play since 2014.
“If you can win on the road anytime in the SEC, it’s going to be huge for your club,” Vols head coach Tony Vitello said following the game. “And then if you can win a series, it’s even bigger. Definitely a great day for the Vols.”
Tidwell (W, 3-1) earned his third victory of the season in his first ever conference start. The Loretto, Tennessee native allowed just one run on four hits in 7.1 innings of work, pitching into the eighth inning before handing the ball to Kirby Connell. Tidwell finished with six strikeouts to go along with just two walks.
“It was incredible,” Vitello said of Tidwell’s performance. “He took ownership of that game. Certainly some strong defense behind him — a couple big plays, but he took ownership of that game and it was his. I’m going to be willing to bet our pitchers behind him had a little sense of duty to do their job because of what he had done.”
The only run Tidwell gave up came in the sixth inning when Georgia cut the Tennessee lead to 3-1. Bulldogs centerfielder Ben Anderson tripled to lead off the inning before Cole Tate grounded out to first to bring in Anderson. Tidwell faced very little trouble throughout the day, only leaving three runners on base the entire game.
Connell did inherit a runner on base when he relieved Tidwell. After Tidwell walked the final batter he faced in the eighth inning, Connell entered to face just one batter. Connell did his job, getting a fly ball for the second out of the inning. Camden Sewell relieved Connell and picked up the final out of the eighth on a ground ball to second. Sewell then pitched a scoreless ninth inning to pick up his first save of the season.
“If you look at his whole body of work, it’s impressive,” Vitello said of Sewell. “He’s excellent out there any time he’s within and just being Camden Sewell. He was definitely doing that today and it just happened to be in a really big situation.”
Tennessee (17-4, 2-1 SEC) jumped on Georgia (14-5, 1-2 SEC) early just as it did in its 11-6 win on Friday night and 5-4 loss on Saturday. The Vols scored one run in the opening inning though they would have had liked to have had more after loading the bases. Pete Derkay, Jake Rucker and Drew Gilbert hit back-to-back-to-back singles with one out, setting up Jordan Beck to drive in the first run on a fielder’s choice.
The Vols pushed two more across in the fourth inning courtesy of loading the bases once again. This time they did so courtesy of three walks to Luc Lipcius, Derkay and Rucker. After Lipcius scored on a wild pitch, Gilbert hit an RBI single to extend the Tennessee lead to 3-0.
Tennessee wouldn’t score again until the ninth inning when it added a much-needed insurance run. Connor Pavolony led off the inning with a single and after Liam Spence hit a double, UT had runners on second and third with no outs. It set Gilbert up to drive in his second run of the game on a sacrifice fly and make it a 4-1 game.
Though the Vols pulled out the win, they struggled once again with runners on base. Tennessee left 10 runners on base as it was just 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Vitello’s bunch was a little bit better when runners were simply on base, collecting five hits in 19 at-bats.
Georgia starter Jonathan Cannon (L, 1-1) earned the loss. Cannon allowed two runs and a walk on five hits in 3.2 innings of work. He tallied five strikeouts.
Tennessee now returns home to Knoxville for a five-game homestand. It’ll face Eastern Kentucky in its midweek game on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET before hosting LSU (16-5, 1-2 SEC) next weekend for a three-game series. The Tigers lost two of three this weekend to Mississippi State.
“For now, we’ll enjoy the win,” Vitello said. “Everybody will jump into their vehicle, cruise by Atlanta — the home of 2 Chainz — and then we’ll head back home to Knoxville.”