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‘I Don’t Think We Fear Very Many People’: Tennessee Wins Knoxville Regional

KNOXVILLE, Tn — Tennessee baseball faced its second biggest deficit of the season in back-to-back games at this weekend’s Knoxville Regional.

Both Campbell and Georgia Tech jumped out to, 4-0, leads in the first four innings against Tennessee. Behind the Vols’, 8-3, loss to Georgia in mid May the four-run deficits were the biggest Tennessee faced all season.

Tennessee answered in different ways. The Vols scored five runs in two innings after falling behind Campbell in the third inning, and while the Fighting Camels provided steady pressure Tennessee never trailed again. Georgia Tech led until the ninth inning when Tennessee turned a one-run deficit into a five-run lead in seven at-bats.

While Tennessee hasn’t trailed often this season, head coach Tony Vitello believes the adversity they have faced prepared them well for the weekend’s trials.

“I would say that they’ve responded in a lot of situations,” Vitello said. “There’s just been a lot of things where our guys needed to gather themselves and respond, and I think they’ve done that consistently throughout the year. Just kind of comes off in more dramatic fashion when the last two days happen. All it does is build self-belief, now you’re in that situation again, you’d like to, as a coach, keep your composure a little bit more because you know what these guys are capable of.”

The comeback games not only tested Tennessee but pushed its competitive buttons. The Vols showed the fire-and-flare that makes them hated across the country.

Drew Gilbert’s bat landed in Oak Ridge Sunday morning, nearly 12 hours after his no doubt three-run homer gave Tennessee the lead in the fourth inning against Campbell.

Jordan Beck “blacked out” after hammering the game tying double over centerfielder Colin Hall’s head in the ninth inning Sunday night.

“I just don’t think we fear very many people,” Beck said. “Even when we’re down, it’s kind of like motivation to go more and have better at-bats and kind of push the game farther. The game is honestly more fun when they’re close like that. You can see the competitiveness come out in us.”

While jumping out to early leads, Campbell and Georgia Tech ran Tennessee starters early in consecutive games. The Vols’ elite starting pitching has been their greatest strength for most of the season, and opponents nerfed it on back-to-back games.

That’s when Tennessee’s bullpen flexed its muscles. Kirby Connell stifled Campbell’s red-hot lineup for 3.2 innings Saturday night and LHP Will Mabrey used his best outing since mid-April to hold Georgia Tech scoreless in 3.2 innings pitched.

As Tennessee’s offense struggled with runners in-scoring position, Mabrey’s five strikeout performance kept the Vols within striking distance. Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall called Mabrey “the hero” of the game.

“It was Yogi Berra, déjà vu all over again,” Vitello said of Mabrey’s performance. “I don’t know how many voices you all have in your head, but I had a lot. I said, ‘This guy’s doing the exact same thing as Kirby.’ Then I needed to shut up and let it happen. You don’t want to jinx it or whatever. I guess I’m the only one who can hear my thoughts, but that’s the best I can represent it. As good as he was last night and as key as it was in the victory, the same goes for tonight. It was just a different guy who works equally as hard and I think is as equally as good of a kid who loves the Vols the same as Kirby.”

Tennessee’s depth at the plate showed itself as well as the depth on the mound.

Charlie Taylor didn’t wow, but performed well in place of Evan Russell on Friday and Saturday. Jared Dickey reached base in both of his pinch hit plate appearances including a leadoff single to spark the ninth inning comeback against Georgia Tech.

Then there was Christian Moore. The freshman had just two hits in SEC play since hitting the go-ahead home run against Florida in late April. The Brooklyn native provided massive insurance runs with ninth inning pinch hit singles in back-to-back games.

“I mean you can call it composure because he believes in himself, but I think he and a few of the other guys kind of like it when the lights are brighter if you want to call it that,” Vitello said. “I just mean self- belief. (Former Missouri infielder Ian) Kinsler was the first guy that ever kind of taught me how important that is. He’s kind of got that. He wants to be out there when it’s bigger and brighter, and we’ve even had conversations that sometimes he doesn’t want to be out there in practice. I guess you’d probably rather have it that way. As far as the composure goes, the guy’s a warrior.”

This Tennessee team is full of warriors. It showed itself on the mound and at the plate as the Vols won the Knoxville Regional for the second consecutive year.

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