KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– Tennessee Baseball (12-3) demolished Morehead State (9-5) in game one of a three-game series Friday night in Knoxville, annihilating the Eagles 23-4.
Tennessee scored 23 runs on 18 hits, seven home runs (tied program record), and seven Vols had multiple RBIs.
Senior third-baseman Zane Denton led the way with a career-high six RBIs in what was a historical night for the Alabama transfer. Denton hit for the cycle, becoming the fifth Vol to do so in program history.
Maui Ahuna had a season-high five RBI and hit two home runs in what was his best night at the plate in a Tennessee uniform.
Kavares Tears also was stellar in his first career start, going 3-4 with two RBIs and a home run, the first of his career.
Lots of records were tied and set on a chilly night in Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Here’s what happened as Tennessee got their fifth double-digit win of the season.
Chase Dollander Sets Personal Record
Dollander continued his theme of struggling in the first inning, giving up back-to-back one-out walks. Only seven of his first 18 pitches were strikes, but Dollander got out of the inning unscathed by stranding the pair of Eagles with a strikeout and a flyout.
Per usual, Dollander was crisper after the first inning. The junior logged back-to-back 1-2-3 innings in the second and third, adding four strikeouts across the two innings to give him six on the night through three frames.
Morehead State got on the board in the fourth with a two-run home run from six-hole hitter Nick Gooden. The Eagles’ second baseman became the third person to take Dollander yard in 2023, but it didn’t stop the Vols ace from setting a personal record Friday night.
Dollander threw back-to-back strikeouts in the fifth, giving him 10 on the night. Dollander’s 10 Ks gave him three consecutive outings with double-digit strikeouts, a career record for the junior.
“He got into a rhythm,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said on Dollander. “It was really fun to watch. That’s a good combination to have. I’ve been around plenty of pitchers that, yeah, when they’re in a rhythm, it goes pretty well. Well he’s got great stuff, so when he’s in a rhythm it goes great.”
Five Home Runs Give Vols Massive Lead After Three
Like Dollander, Morehead State’s starting pitcher Luke Helton wasn’t sharp to start, giving up back-to-back walks to Maui Ahuna and Christian Moore. However, unlike Dollander, Helton’s struggles didn’t stop with the walks. The Vols scored a pair of runs in the first off a Zane Denton RBI double and a Jared Dickey RBI groundout.
Tennessee extended their lead in the second inning off the bat of Maui Ahuna. With runners on the corners and one out, Ahuna smoked a three-run bomb to right-center.
“It was awesome,” Vitello said on Ahuna. “I’ll tell you what, normally as a coach, you think you’re smarter than you are, but you honestly could kind of see it coming. He’s taken good swings – some of the results haven’t been there – but in the last couple of days his swing has looked really clean and looked really good.”
The Hawaii native’s first home run in orange gave the Vols an early 5-0 lead and foreshadowed how the game would go for Tennessee at the plate.
The Vols bats didn’t stay hot in the third; they caught fire. Zane Denton and Jared Dickey each left the yard to begin the third with a pair of solo homers. After Griffin Merritt was hit by a pitch, Dylan Dreiling brought him home with his first-career home run: a two-run shot to center field.
Kavares Tears then became the fourth Vol to hit a home run in the inning, crushing a 420-foot moonshot over the right field wall. Tears’ first career home run gave the Vols a 10-0 lead going into the fourth.
“He was the best practice player the last two days,” Vitello said on Tears. “It was that simple. He’s always working hard, takes a lot of swings… but baseball unfortunately requires intent all the time. He did that as well as anybody, if not the best, the last two days, and obviously, we put in a lot of practice following Tuesday’s game.”
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Kavares Tears Continues Big Night, Zane Denton Hits for the Cycle
Tears continued to rake in the fourth inning, smacking an RBI single up the middle to plate Tennessee’s 11th run. After his single, the redshirt freshman was 3-3 at the plate with 2 RBI and a home run.
Denton continued his big night in the fifth inning, taking advantage of a bases-loaded situation with a two-run single to right center. A fielding error by the Eagles’ left fielder and a Griffin Merritt two-run single plated three more for the Vols in the fifth, and Tennessee had scored five runs in an inning for the second time in five frames.
After his fifth-inning single, Denton was a triple away from the cycle, and the Tennessee third-baseman made it happen in the sixth.
The Brentwood, Tennessee, native knocked a two-run triple to left center to give him the cycle. Denton’s first-career cycle marked the second consecutive season a Tennessee third-baseman hit for the cycle, as Trey Lipscomb did so in game one against Iona in 2022.
“It was pretty cool,” Vitello said on Denton hitting for the cycle. “The best part was seeing the smile on his face. To see him have that huge smile on his face was awesome.”
Denton became the fifth Vol to ever hit for the cycle, joining Lipscomb, Chris Burke (2001), Matt Duffy (2011), and Jordan Rodgers (2016).
Vols Take 20+ Run Lead, Tie Program Record
Tennessee scored three more runs in the sixth to give them five in an inning for the third time of the game.
A pair of pinch-hitters, Reese Chapman and Christian Scott, were responsible for the runs. Chapman hit an RBI single, and he was brought home as Scott knocked a two-run home run to right field.
Scott’s homer gave Tennessee seven home runs on the night, tying a program record, and the Vols led 21-2 heading into the seventh inning.
Maui Ahuna hit a two-run home run in the seventh to give Tennessee their final pair of runs for the game. Ahuna’s two-home run game against the Eagles marked the first multi-home run game of his collegiate career.
Multiple Arms Get Work out of the Pen
Chase Dollander was done with runners on first and second and two outs in the top of the sixth. Junior right-hander Bryce Jenkins took the mound and got a weak groundout to strand the runners and end the top half.
Sophomore Jacob Bimbi and junior Hollis Fanning got work after Jenkins. Bimbi faced the minimum thanks to a double play, but Fanning gave up a home run to give Morehead State their third run.
JJ Garcia closed it out in the ninth in what was a rough inning for the freshman. Garcia gave up two hits, a walk and allowed a run to score on a throwing error.
However, Garcia kept Morehead State at four runs by getting a strikeout to end the game.
Tennessee will look to win the series against Morehead State when the two face off at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday night. The series finale will be played at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.