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Elite Pitching Powers Tennessee Past Dayton for Series Win

Elite Pitching Powers Tennessee Past Dayton for Series Win
Chase Burns//Photo credit via Tennessee Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– Tennessee Baseball picked up the series win over Dayton on Saturday night with a 4-1 win in Lindsey Nelson Stadium. 

The Vols’ night was highlighted by an elite start from sophomore right-hander Chase Burns, who set a career-high in strikeouts with 12, and another solid relief outing from Seth Halvorsen. 

The two Volunteer arms limited Dayton to just two hits and one run, and the pair combined to record five 1-2-3 innings. Halvorsen took over for Burns after a masterful 6.1 innings of work out of the sophomore, and Halvorsen retired all eight batters he faced. With Tennessee leading 4-1 heading into the ninth, Halvorsen retired the Flyers in order with just three pitches to record his first career save.

“I don’t think so,” Halvorsen said when asked if he’d ever had a three-pitch inning. “Even in high school, I don’t think I ever had one. So that was fun.”

“It’s just cool to see him back,” Elander said regarding Halvorsen’s night. “Coach A(nderson)’s got him really sinking that thing (slider) where it’s hard for guys to get the ball in the air, so he’s gonna be a real weapon for us.”

At the plate, Tennessee’s bats weren’t as hot as they’ve been over the past few games, as solid pitching from Dayton held the Vols to four runs on five hits. Tennessee’s bats were especially cold with runners on-base and in scoring position, as the Vols were 3-18 with runners on and 2-11 with runners in scoring position.

However, Tennessee was often able to create momentum thanks to four errors committed by Dayton’s defense. Poor defense seems to be a theme for the Flyers, who have totaled nine total errors in the series thus far.

Griffin Merritt gave the Vols their first run of the night, smacking an RBI double into left field to score Christian Moore, who had worked a one-out walk, in the bottom of the first inning. Denton and Merritt were thus in scoring position for Cal Stark, but Tennessee’s designated hitter struck out to strand the runners.

Chase Burns started the game off on the right foot, striking out four in the first two innings. Burns did give up a two-out single in the top of the first, but wet turf caused designated hitter Ben Jones to overslide when stealing second and ultimately be tagged out.

In the second frame, Burns logged his first 1-2-3 inning of the evening.

Starting shortstop Austen Jaslove gave Tennessee its second hit and run of the game in the second inning, when the Knoxville native roped an RBI double into the left center gap to score Dylan Dreiling. 

Tennessee added to their lead in the second off a Christian Moore sac fly to center field to score Jaslove. Unlike the first inning, Tennessee took advantage of runners in scoring position to do more damage and log their first multi-run inning of the game. 

Dayton added their first run of the night in the third inning. The Flyers had runners on the corners with one out after a pair of walks, a stolen base and a wild pitch. During leadoff hitter Keagan Calero’s at-bat, Jose Martinez, who was at first base, attempted to steal second but was caught by Charlie Taylor. However, Omar Daniels, who was at third, stole home to get Dayton on the board.

Burns ended the inning with fifth strikeout of the night against his 10th batter.

Tennessee couldn’t get much going in the bottom of the third, and Burns retired the side around a one-out single in the top of the fourth. Through four innings, Burns struck out half his batters. 

The Vols added their fourth run of the game in the bottom of the fourth. Jared Dickey smoked a two-out single to left center and advanced to second on a fielding error by Dayton left fielder Michael Adair. Christian Moore then brought him home shortly thereafter with an RBI single to right field. Moore also advanced to second courtesy a Dayton error, but he was stranded there as Blake Burke grounded out to end the inning. 

Burns continued his fantastic outing in the fifth, striking out the side in order to give him 10 strikeouts on the night against just 17 batters. 

More From RTI: Vitello-less Tennessee Baseball Dominates Dayton To Open Series

Dayton made their first pitching change of the night in the bottom of the fifth with Zane Denton on second and no outs. The Flyers brought in junior right-hander Ryan Packard to take over the mound for starter Mark Manfredi. Considering Dayton’s defense committed three errors, Dayton starter did a solid job against Tennessee’s offense that entered the game on a hot streak. 

Packard got two strikeouts and a groundout to end the inning and keep Denton at second.

Burns recorded his third 1-2-3 inning of the night in the sixth, sitting down the Flyers with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout. Burns’ two strikeouts in the sixth gave him 12 on the night, setting a career-high for the sophomore. 

“Just special stuff,” Tennessee Baseball acting head coach Josh Elander said when thinking back to Burns’ performance. “He’s obviously one of the most talented pitchers in the country. He’s got the accolades to back that up, but he’s a tremendous worker, always getting after it, trying to get better… It was really cool to see the fastball command pick up, and he also got the slider go to another level too.”

“It’s always one of my good pitches that I have,” Burns said regarding the slider. “And tonight, you know, just throwing it how I throw, really hard, with conviction, and hoping it does its thing.”

The Gallatin, Tennessee, native’s outstanding night came to an end after a four-pitch, one-out walk in the top of the seventh, as junior right-hander Seth Halvorsen came on to pitch for the Vols.

Burns’ final line was one of the best of his Tennessee career, highlighted by a career-high 12 Ks.

Halvorsen retired his first two Flyers to preserve Tennessee’s three run lead heading into the bottom of the inning.

Tennessee had the chance to blow the game open in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded and no outs, but the Vols stranded all three runners. Cal Stark and Dylan Dreiling flew out, and Austen Jaslove grounded into a fielder’s choice at third. 

“I think a little bit of both,” Elander said when asked if Tennessee’s offensive struggles were more so due to Dayton’s pitching or pressing too hard at the plate. “We talked about it with the hitters out there, it’s some different looks, they’re doing a good job in mixing and matching and going matchups but you know, we were late in advantage count a couple times and chasing breaking balls down out of the zone and guys just in between too much and making it a little tougher than it needed to be. So, hopefully we learned from it and get better, but still got a lot of confidence in this group.”

Despite the offense’s inability to give Tennessee a larger lead, Halvorsen continued to shove for the remainder of the game and shut the door on the Flyers, retiring all eight batters he faced. With a three-pitch 1-2-3 inning in the ninth to preserve the Vols 4-1 lead, the junior earned his first career save. 

“There’s been a lot of work that’s gone into that for him kind of behind the scenes,” Elander said on Halvorsen. “And kind of a freak deal (injury) last year that happened right over there in that cage. So again, I think anytime we get him out here, we’re pretty excited because what people forget is that guy threw on Friday night in the SEC, which you cannot put a value on that experience.”

With the series already wrapped up, the BaseVols will look to sweep the Flyers on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET in Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

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