MESA, Ariz– Second-ranked Tennessee Baseball earned their first win of the season with a 7-0 shutout win over UC-San Diego in Mesa, Arizona, on Sunday.
Tennessee’s starting pitcher Drew Beam was phenomenal in his first start of 2023, retiring 17 of 20 batters faced and giving up only three hits and no runs.
The Vols’ bats weren’t on fire from start to finish, but a couple big hits from Blake Burke and a four-run seventh inning allowed Tennessee to win comfortably.
Burke recorded Tennessee’s first multi-base hit of the afternoon with a triple deep into center field in the bottom of the fourth inning. Burke’s triple was nearly a home run, as it hit the top of the center field wall and bounced back over the center fielder, giving Burke ample time to get to third. Burke was brought home shortly thereafter as Zane Denton ripped an RBI single into right field.
“When he hits a ball like that in a park this big, it gets the whole dugout excited,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said regarding Burke’s triple. “It is kind of like a big dunk in basketball, it truly does shift the momentum a little bit.”
Griffin Merritt then took the plate for the second time of the afternoon and was hit in the face by a pitch. After trainers attended to Merritt’s bloody nose, the Cincinnati transfer stayed in the game.
“Real tough,” Vitello said when describing Merritt. “I mean he was a really good football player in high school like Drew Beam, he’ll tell you all about it. If you’ve met his dad, he’s just a blue collar man’s man type of guy. So I didn’t think it was even a question on whether he was going to come out of the game. Fortunately, it didn’t catch him too flush in an area where it was a huge concern.”
Griffin Merritt stayed in the game after taking a pitch to the face.
Different breed. pic.twitter.com/7lUOMpeXCO
— Jack Foster (@jackfostermedia) February 19, 2023
Aggressive base-running from Denton led to UC-San Diego’s catcher committing a throwing error, allowing Denton and Merritt to advance to third and second, respectively.
The Vols then added their second run of the game with an RBI groundout from Kyle Booker to score Denton.
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On the mound, sophomore Drew Beam had an incredible start. Beam faced the minimum through three innings, and after giving up two hits in the fourth, the Murfreesboro, Tennessee, native retired the Tritons in order again in the fifth.
Beam pitched through the sixth inning, retiring the side around a one-out single to keep UC-San Diego scoreless through six.
“He kinda calmed the storm a little bit,” Vitello said on Beam’s start. “We needed something today, whether it be an early run or a strong pregame or good energy, you name it, but what we got was a really solid start, which is kind of the theme when he gets the ball. He had good presence, too. They were in it, obviously they wanted to win the game, and they had a little extra energy going over there, and the fact he had a calming presence I think affected our team.”
Drew Beam FINAL LINE: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 60 strikes on 86 total pitches against 20 batters.
Phenomenal start to the season for Beam.
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) February 19, 2023
Tennessee added their third run of the game in the bottom of the sixth inning thanks to the bat of Blake Burke. Burke continued his big afternoon with a solo bomb over the left center wall, giving him his first home run of 2023.
JuCo transfer right-hander Bryce Jenkins, who took over for Beam in the top of the seventh, was the first of many bullpen arms to throw for Tennessee against the Tritons. Jenkins gave up a pair of hits but got out of the jam with a fielder’s choice to keep the Tritons scoreless.
The Vols’ bats caught fire in the bottom of the seventh inning, as Tennessee scored four runs in the frame to break the game open. Starting catcher Cal Stark opened the inning with a leadoff single, and pinch runner Ethan Payne then advanced to second on a wild pitch to give the Vols a runner in scoring position.
After Christian Scott worked a walk, starting shortstop Austen Jaslove roped an RBI single into right center to score Payne. Scott and Jaslove then stole third and second, respectively, and Jared Dickey laid down an RBI grounder to score Scott.
Tennessee added two more runs in the inning to extend their lead to 7-0 thanks to a wild pitch that scored Jaslove and a solo bomb from Christian Moore.
Moore’s home run marked his first of the season, the Vols second of the day and the team’s third of the weekend.
“I think the biggest thing was getting a couple guys on base,” Vitello said when reflecting on Tennessee’s seventh-inning performance. “Cal [Stark], nothing big, I mean he showed a big swing last night which is great, but he got on base to start the whole thing. And then C[hristian] Scott takes a walk where we were trying to sac the guy over or maybe even bunt for a hit. He took what the game gave him. So we got two guys on to start the inning, and that’s usually when things go well for you.”
Junior left-handed pitchers Zander Sechrist and Jacob Bimbi loaded the bases with a ground rule double and a pair of walks in the eighth inning, and Tony Vitello went back to the bullpen to bring out Zach Joyce, twin brother of Ben Joyce.
Joyce was great in his Tennessee debut, delivering a pair of strikeouts to strand the bases loaded. While there was no gun in the ballpark, Joyce’s fastball looked to be easily in the mid-to-high 90s.
“Well, sometimes the kids make you look smart, and that’s what [Joyce] did in that case,” Vitello said. “It wasn’t quite how we thought we were going to bring him in the game. He had warmed up a bunch, but all the saga aside, he came out onto the mound and I was almost ready to apologize, and say, ‘We kind of got you in a tough situation here’ and keep it light, but he came out and was laughing. Kind of joking with all the guys, but clearly focused, too. And that’s what you gotta do out of the pen. Come out with a good heart rate and let your best stuff fly. And his stuff is pretty good.”
Sophomore right-hander Aaron Combs finished the game on the mound for Tennessee, retiring the side around a two-out walk.
The Vols went 1-2 in the MLB Desert Invitational in Arizona but end the weekend on a high note. Second-ranked Tennessee will look to build off the win when they take on Alabama A&M on Tuesday and Wednesday in a pair of midweek contests.
“You have to learn how to win, no matter what program or what team it is you’re coaching at the start of the year,” Vitello said on Tennessee’s first win. “So, it’s good to get the first one for everybody. You also got to learn how to win in a variety of ways. And if you take the weekend as a whole, it’s disappointing. You want to win each series. So you gotta figure out how to do that. We won’t have another opportunity until next weekend, but we got games Tuesday and Wednesday where we need to work to win, but we also need to work on things and get better in some areas.”
The Vols’ first midweek game against Alabama A&M will take place in Lindsey Nelson Stadium at 4:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday.