Tennessee baseball broke the SEC record for the best start in SEC play, sweeping Missouri to improve to 12-0 in conference play.
The Tigers ended Tennessee’s three-plus week stretch of never trailing in a game, but couldn’t leave Knoxville with a win.
Here’s four notes from the weekend.
Tigers Push The Vol
Tennessee made it look easy in its first three weekends of SEC play, out scoring South Carolina, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, 65-16.
The Vols never trailed in their first three series and rarely even sweat.
Missouri — while improved this season — entered the weekend tied for last in the SEC. With the Vols returning home from back-to-back road series, it could have easily been another stress free weekend.
The Tigers — and the nature of baseball — had other ideas. Missouri jumped out to a lead in the first inning of Friday’s series opener and made the Vols earn all three wins.
Missouri led into the seventh inning in the series opener and into the sixth inning of game two. However, the Vols jumped all over the Missouri bullpen to make both of those wins look easy on the scorecard, but that isn’t an accurate portrayal of what happened.
The series finale followed a different path. Tennessee led throughout the game — albeit by just one run for most of it — and it felt like the Vols would coast to the sweep.
Missouri pulled itself back in the game with a two-run seventh inning and got the tying run to third base in the ninth inning before Redmond Walsh sealed the win with his 21st career save.
“That was good for us,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “What we got out of that group. I know they probably wanted to win a game here but they pushed our pitchers probably about as good as anybody.”
Tennessee Flexes Its Pitching Depth
Vitello hit the nail on the head. Weekend starters Chase Burns, Chase Dollander and Drew Beam had been unhittable in the first three weekends of conference play.
Missouri made Burns look pedestrian in his shortest outing of the season and had early success against Dollander before the sophomore found his groove.
That forced Tennessee’s bullpen into a huge role after seeing limited meaningful innings the last three weekends. The bullpen delivered, giving up just two earned runs in 11.1 innings pitched.
The Vols flexed their depth using eight different arms out of the bullpen. Camden Sewell — who gave up two consecutive hits after entering in a jam Friday night — is the only one that struggled.
“They’ve kind of created the offensive problems that y’all have brought up when you’ve got some of the guys we do on the bench that you would like to get at-bats,” Vitello said of the bullpen. “Before it was, see if this guy can do this or that in certain situations. I think a lot of those guys have proven that they can handle a lot.”
Blade Tidwell got his first weekend action of the season, striking out all three batters he retired. Mark McLaughlin continues to carve out a bigger role for himself, holding the Tigers scoreless in a pair of outings.
LHP Will Mabrey is as effective as anyone in Tennessee’s bullpen and has completely earned Frank Anderson and Tony Vitello’s trust. The Tennessee native struck out four and allowed just two hits in 2.2 innings pitched.
Walsh’s Sunday save moved him within two saves of tying Tennessee legend Todd Helton for the most in program history.
Long Ball Powers Offensive Output
Back at Lindsey Nelson Stadium for its second SEC series of the year, Tennessee’s offense leaned on the long ball.
Five different Vols went deep on the weekend for a total of eight home runs. Fourteen of Tennessee’s 23 runs on the weekend came via the long ball.
On the road at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, Tennessee proved they can manufacture runs without leaving the yard. Back at its friendly confines, the Vols built on their nation’s best 71 home runs.
Trey Lipscomb, Evan Russell and Luc Lipcius — more on him in a moment — all hit two home runs on the weekend while Jorel Ortega and Jordan Beck both left the yard.
Lipcius Punctuates The Weekend
While the bulk of Tennessee’s offense came via the long ball, the Vols weren’t home run or bust for most of the weekend.
Tennessee tallied 29 hits and worked 19 walks over the course of the weekend to continually keep the pressure on the Tigers.
However, that wasn’t the case Sunday when Tennessee recorded just five hits and three walks. The Vols had some hard hit outs — including a spectacular diving catch by Ty Wilmsmeyer that robbed Cortland Lawson of a RBI — but struggled to bring runs home.
That’s where Lipcius came in. Both of the first baseman’s home runs on the weekend came in Sunday’s series finale. The Virginia native opened up the scoring with a solo blast in the third inning and then gave the Vols some separation with a two-run shot in the fifth inning.
“I just felt really under control especially in my legs,” Lipcius said Sunday. “I was actually surprised in that second AB (at-bat) with so many fastballs — I think that was the sixth one that I actually hit. Just under control.”
The super-senior was Tennessee’s most productive batter all week, hitting four-of-10 and reaching base eight times in 14 plate appearances.
Lipcius — who has been terrible against left-handed pitching most of his career — was solid against lefties for the second straight weekend. The first baseman worked a walk in three plate appearances against lefties on the weekend and didn’t strike out in any.
The veteran continues to be a stout defender and his defensive prowess is the most underrated part of his game and one of the most underrated parts of this Tennessee team.