Tennessee junior Chad Dallas delivered a spectacular pitching performance on Friday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium to lead No. 9 Tennessee to a 3-1 win over No. 14 LSU. The win snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Tigers and was just the second win for the Vols (19-4, 3-1 SEC) in the last 17 games against them.
Dallas (W, 4-0) allowed just one run over seven innings of work as he struck out a career-high 11 hitters. He gave up five hits and one walk on 101 pitches to earn his fourth win of the season. The performance lowered his ERA from 4.70 to 3.41.
“A gutsy effort is what I saw — the way he just kind of battled through some of those at-bats,” Vols head baseball coach Tony Vitello said following the game. “Hopefully an effort that the other pitchers see, that when you’re pitching with your heart and your guts, it’s just as important as your arm.”
The only run LSU (16-6, 1-3 SEC) would push across over the course of Dallas’ outing came in the second inning when Tigers left fielder Gavin Dugas hit a solo home run to give his team an early 1-0 lead. It would be one of a handful of opportunities LSU would threaten Tennessee. The Tigers only had a runner in scoring position once on the night and it proved to be the only run they could muster for the game.
“Landing the cutter and slider in the zone as much as I did was really big for me,” Dallas said. “They were sitting heaters there for a while, so I had to throw more breaking balls than I was expecting to, but that was fine. We kept throwing it and landing it.”
LSU threatened in the top of the ninth in the midst of Sean Hunley’s attempt at a two-inning save. Hunley walked the leadoff batter on a questionable ball four call that drew the ire of the Tennessee dugout. On the second pitch of the next at-bat, Hunley (SV, 2) forced a 6-4-3 double play to all but end the game and pick up his second save of the season. The play sparked an emotional reaction from Vitello and the rest of the dugout.
“When it’s close and two teams are really trying to win, and there’s extra things that go on, there’s extra emotion that comes with it,” Vitello said of his emotions spilling out on to the field. “That was the theme of the night for me — a gutsy effort by both teams, but our guys had some special efforts with special circumstances.”
“He has the fight that the players have,” Vols centerfielder Drew Gilbert said of Vitello. “I would like to say I’d run through a brick wall for that guy. There’s not something he couldn’t get me to do. It’s nice knowing he has your back.”
Tennessee responded with a pair of runs in the third inning following Dugas’ homer in the second. Vols shortstop Liam Spence hit a double down the right field line to start the inning and then advanced to third on a ground ball from Pete Derkay. Spence then scored on an RBI triple from Jake Rucker to tie the game, before Rucker scored from third on a passed ball to give the Vols a 2-1 lead.
Gilbert tacked on an insurance run in the seventh inning with an RBI double to right field to extend the lead to 3-1. The hit came after Derkay was hit by a pitch and Rucker walked to put runners on first and second with one out.
“I just tried to loosen up, stay through the middle and I think the results showed,” Gilbert said of his key hit late in the game. “Our approach is we’re never going to go down easy. We’re not going to chase. We’re going to foul pitches off. We’re going to sit in there and fight.”
Tennessee will go for back-to-back series wins to start conference play when it squares off with LSU in game two of the three-game series on Saturday night. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET. Senior LHP Will Heflin (2-1, 4.22 ERA) is expected to start for the Vols, while junior RHP Jaden Hill (2-2, 5.18 ERA) is expected to start for the Tigers, respectively.