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Effective Dollander, Huge Sixth Inning Propels Tennessee Past Gonzaga

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tn. — Tennessee and Gonzaga baseball combined for a six inning pitchers duel before the Vols got to the Zags bullpen and blew the game open with a six-run sixth inning.

Chase Dollander was effective with runners on base and Tennessee used a pair of long balls to spark the 8-2 victory.

Here’s three takeaways from Tennessee’s series opening win.

Dollander Effective With Traffic On The Base Paths

Chase Dollander’s first inning set the tone for this third start of the season. Connor Coballes and Enzo Apodaca led off the game with back-to-back singles to give Gonzaga runners on the corners with nobody out.

The junior proceeded to strikeout the next two batters — leaning on his fastball — before jamming the third and getting out of the inning with a soft groundout.

The reigning SEC Pitcher of the Year wasn’t perfect, but he was still lethal while working around traffic in six scoreless innings.

“It was a war of attrition and fortunately he came out of the game as a winner because of the way he worked out of some of those jams,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said. “By nature of throwing strikes and facing good hitters, you’re going to give up some hits. But it was kind of a bend, don’t break type of deal, or more on the side of just a gutty effort.”

Dollander turned in just one 1-2-3 inning and the leadoff man reached base in each of the first three innings. But the projected top three pick in the MLB Draft worked around it all the same and was only truly threatened once after the first inning.

That came in the sixth inning when Gonzaga put two runners on base with two-outs. Dollander pumped a 95 mph, 3-2 fastball past Sam Stem and released a roar of emotion to end his day.

“In my mind I kind of figured that was probably my last inning so I went out there just attack, attack, attack,” Dollander said. “That last hitter just kind of felt my wrath again.”

Dollander allowed six hits and hit a batter in his six innings but surrendered zero walks while striking out 11. It’s Dollander’s second straight start with double-digit strikeouts, a feat he’s achieved just once previously in his Tennessee career.

Back Of Tennessee’s Lineup Fails To Capitalize On Scoring Opportunities

Tennessee’s offense struggled to take advantage of early scoring opportunities against Gonzaga in Friday night’s series opener.

With the wind heavily impacting the game and Chase Dollander on the mound, Tony Vitello went with a strong defensive lineup which included Hunter Ensley (center) and Christian Scott (right). Pairing those two with Charlie Taylor made for a weak bottom of the lineup.

It proved to be the case twice in Tennessee’s best scoring opportunities early in the game. Tennessee had two-on with no outs for those three in the second inning before all three struck out, Ensley and Scott seeing a combined six pitches (Ensley saw only two due to a pitch clock violation).

Things didn’t go any better in the fourth inning when Tennessee once again had two-on with nobody out. Maui Ahuna started the strikeout train this time before Ensley went down on three pitches and Kyle Booker pinch hit for Scott and struck out on three pitches.

“You could easily say, ‘what are you swinging at?’ But our guys were talking in the dugout and they were talking about how good the changeup was,” Vitello said of Gonzaga starter Owen Wild. “So you’ve got a fastball that’s taking off on ya and playing more firm than maybe the radar gun says. And he was even 90-94, but it’s playing more firm and riding on ya. Yet you’ve got a changeup that is really deceptive and it’s going down. So as a hitter it’s no easy challenge and he was also hitting his spots.”

They did better the third time through the lineup when Ensley and Taylor worked walks around a Booker strikeout to load the bases with two outs. Even better the fourth time when Kyle Booker and Charlie Taylor sparked offense with consecutive one-out doubles.

Those missed scoring opportunities highlighted a poor night at the plate for the bottom of Tennessee’s lineup. The Vols seven, eight and nine hitters combined to go two-of-10 at the plate with seven strikeouts.

More From RTI: Play-By-Play Of Tennessee’s Win Over Gonzaga
Tennessee Blows Open Game In Sixth Inning

Tennessee was wading water with Gonzaga starter Owen Wild on the mound. Christian Moore gave the Vols the lead with a solo home run that cleared the left field porches.

That set the stage for a massive sixth inning as Tennessee pushed Wild from the game and got to the Zags’ weak bullpen.

Zane Denton led off the inning with a solo home run before trading outs with walks. Wild, who threw 109 pitches, was flirting with getting out of the inning when he walked Taylor on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases. Gonzaga finally went to its bullpen and it did not deliver.

Jack Moffitt hit Jared Dickey on the first pitch he threw and walked Christian Moore before the Zags replaced him. Blake Burke provided the big hit, fouling off five two-strike pitches before singling to center field on the 11th pitch of an at-bat against Bradley Mullan.

Tennessee scored three runs on the hit and the damage was done. The Vols scored six runs in the sixth inning and that was more than enough to earn the win.

“It spiraled into a big inning but really it was all about, scoreboard you can throw away, this was a very small margin for error game or a very small difference between us and Gonzaga tonight and it was kind of that extra grit,” Vitello said.

Final Stats
Up Next

Tennessee and Gonzaga resume their weekend series at 6 p.m. ET Saturday night.

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