HOOVER, Ala. — Tennessee and LSU didn’t get going until 10:10 p.m. local time and 11:10 p.m. back in Knoxville, but the Vols were ready to play nonetheless, defeating LSU to advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals.
Here’s everything to know about the Vols’, 5-2, victory.
Jordan Beck Announces His Presence
Tennessee right fielder Jordan Beck has been struggling at the plate the weeks leading up to the SEC Tournament. The projected first round pick’s struggles continued in the Vols’ tournament opening win over Vanderbilt when he was just one of two Tennessee players to not record a hit.
Beck announced his presence early in Tennessee’s late night battle with the Bayou Bengals. The Alabama native drove in the first run of the game with an opposite field triple off the wall. Beck would score a pitch later on a Ty Floyd wild pitch.
“He’s been the same guy for four weeks, in my opinion,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “Last night, I think he was right on pitches and pulled off them. Other than that, a couple balls in Starkville were absolutely scorched he just didn’t get anything out of them. … He’s fine. He’s filling a big presence in that lineup.”
After creating two runs in the bottom of the first inning, Beck saved two runs in the top of the second. With runners on first-and-second with two-out, Collier Cranfield hit a hard fly ball tailing down the right field line.
Beck made the defensive play of his career, taking a great route and making a diving catch to preserve Tennessee’s lead.
Beck finished the night one-for-three with a walk, but made his biggest impact in the first two innings.
Tennessee Boots The Ball Around In Fifth Inning
After threatening in the second and third inning, LSU finally struck in the fifth inning with some help from Tennessee’s defense.
LSU nine-hitter Drew Bianco worked a one-out walk to give the Tigers’ a baserunner and Co-SEC Player of the Year Dylan Crews won his third battle of the day with the SEC Pitcher of the Year, roping an 0-1 pitch into the left-center gap.
Seth Stephenson took a great angle at the ball to cut it off, but the left fielder struggled to pick up the ball. That mistake allowed Bianco to score from first and Crews to reach second.
Josh Pearson followed it up with a hard hit,grounder to shortstop. The ball briefly got away from Cortland Lawson and the junior tried to make up for it, firing an offline throw that got past Luc Lipcius. The mistake allowed Crews to score and the Tigers to pull within one.
Dollander got a fly out and strikeout to preserve the lead, but the hard contact mixed with Tennessee defensive miscues allowed LSU to make its first run of the game.
Chase Dollander Looks Like Chase Dollander
I have run out of fun, witty headlines about Chase Dollander this season, so we’ll keep it simple. Chase Dollander looked like Chase Dollander Friday night. That’s the SEC Pitcher of the Year and one of the best pitchers in the country.
“He was the same as he’s been which is excellent,” Vitello said. “Then the lineup, without any disrespect to anyone else, is different. It’s a really good lineup. We kind of had a clash of the titans if you will. They’re going to get there’s at some point, so the key for him I think was the old NFL or college defense thing ‘bend, don’t break.’ I thought he did a nice job of that, but he also seemed to pick up some steam as the game went on.”
The sophomore held the SEC’s best offense at bay for 6.2 innings, allowing just one earned run, four hits and two walks while striking out nine.
The Georgia Southern transfer didn’t have his best stuff throughout the whole game, but worked around trouble when he didn’t, continuously pounding the strike zone.
When his stuff was humming, LSU had no answers and Dollander bookended his outing with dominant stuff. The sophomore struck out the side in the first inning and struck out the last three batters he faced spanning from the sixth to seventh inning.
It was Dollander’s most strikeouts since returning from his right-arm injury and the right-handed pitcher is looking nearly untouchable entering the NCAA Tournament.
“My mindset was just attack like it’s always been throughout the season,” Dollander said. “Fastball was playing really well up and my curveball and slider were both there. The changeup was iffy at times, but that’s going to happen. You can’t really have all four pitches in one outing. It was really nice to see all those pitches come together.”
Redmond Walsh Pulls Even With Todd Helton
Redmond Walsh etched his name into the Tennessee record books in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
The super-senior recorded his 23rd career save and seventh save of the season, tying him with Todd Helton atop the Tennessee career saves tally.
“It’s something you try not to think about, but when your name is in the category of probably the best player to ever come to Tennessee, there aren’t any words you can say,” Walsh said. “It’s one of those things where you just go out and do what do every day, but in the back of you mind, you know there is something you want to prove.
“Being a hometown kid and watching the Todd Helton’s play and the J.P. Arencibias and the (Luke) Hochevars, you want to be like them. I’m not saying I am, but to be in that category is an unbelievable feeling.”
Walsh allowed one hit and one walk while striking out one in two scoreless innings. The super-senior recorded his first three outs with his fly open.
“V(itello) always tells us to leave everything out on the field so I guess that’s what I was trying to do,” Walsh joked.
Evan Russell is on the verge of overtaking Helton’s career home run record and Luc Lipcius is just one home run behind the legendary Vol.
Tennessee returns to the Hoover Met for the nightcap of four-games Saturday with a chance to advance to its second straight SEC Tournament Championship. The Vols will face the winner of LSU and Kentucky.
First pitch will be approximately 9 p.m. ET but the game could easily be delayed like it was Friday.