Vanderbilt struck first in game two of the weekend series at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. It was the only bit of momentum the Commodores had all game as Tennessee blitzed Vanderbilt for a 17-1 run-rule victory to clinch the weekend series.
Tennessee scored nine runs in the bottom of the first inning and scored 17 straight runs as they dominated the Commodores in game two of the weekend series.
Here’s everything you need to know about the blowout Tennessee victory.
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A Two-Out, First Inning Explosion
Maui Ahuna grounded out to second and Hunter Ensley flew out to center as Vanderbilt starter Bryce Cunningham got off to a ho-hum start in game two of the weekend series. He wouldn’t record another out.
It started simple enough as Jared Dickey beat the shift with two-strike single and Blake Burke and Christian Moore each walked to load the bases. Then the onslaught of clutch two-out hits began.
Kavares Tears — one of Friday night’s heroes — went the other way on a high 0-2 fastball to drive home two runs. Zane Denton brought another run home dropping a sand wedge down the left field line for a double.
Vanderbilt left fielder Matthew Polk misread a Cal Stark liner, allowing it to drop in front of him for a two RBI single.
After recording the first out of the inning, Ahuna provided the big swing with a three-run homer to right field. Cunningham walked Ensley and that ended his day but not the inning.
Jared Dickey drove Ensley home with a hit-and-run single and fielding error and it was a nine run first inning all with two-outs.
Clutch hitting has been Tennessee’s kryptonite in recent weeks. The Vols had just four hits with runners on base in their previous four SEC games. They recorded six hits with runners on base in the first inning.
Tony Vitello said Friday’s comeback win could be a “firestarter” for the rest of the season. The first inning of Saturday’s game gave validity to that opinion.
Chase Dollander Works Around Trouble, Turns In Strong Outing
Tennessee gave Chase Dollander more run support Saturday than they seemingly have the rest of the season combined. With an eight run lead when Dollander took the mound for the second inning, the junior’s task was simple— throw strikes.
But after a long break between innings, Dollander struggled to do that. The right-handed pitcher surrendered a pair of four pitch walks. Combine that with a chopping double and Vanderbilt had the bases loaded with nobody out.
Vanderbilt looked like it was going to make a run when Dollander hit the ensuing batter, but Tennessee reviewed the call. The review proved fruitful as the call was overturned. It was just as critical in its ability to give Dollander time to throw some warm up pitches.
Dollander took advantage of the opportunity, recording consecutive strikeouts and then a pop out to end the inning unscathed. The second inning was Vanderbilt’s best hope to climb back in the game. Dollander shut the door on them.
The projected top 10 pick did the same thing in the third inning when he stranded runners on the corners with one-out.
From there, Dollander found his rhythm. The two batters he retired to end the third were the first of 11 straight batters retired by the junior. Dollander ate major innings for the Vols in the blowout as he allowed just one run while striking out nine batters in seven innings pitched.
Vols Preserve Bullpen For Series Finale
The blowout win and Chase Dollander’s strong performance were important in their own right. It was even bigger in the grand scheme of the weekend series.
Tennessee heavily taxed key bullpen arms Camden Sewell and Chase Burns in the series opener and while either could potentially throw Sunday it wouldn’t be for extended innings.
Seth Halvorsen is Tennessee’s other top bullpen arm and having him unused on the weekend series is a huge advantage for the Vols.
On the other side, Vanderbilt had to go to its bullpen in the first inning and it combined to throw 119 pitches Saturday. That comes just a day after the Commodores wore out their top bullpen arm Nick Maldonado.
Vanderbilt has an incredibly deep and impressive pitching staff but Tennessee has put pressure on Devin Futrell to pitch well and get to the middle innings of Sunday’s series finale.
The weekend has already been an unequivocal success for Tennessee, but a sweep would be massive as they chase wins to build its NCAA Tournament resume. Getting to 8-10 in conference play instead of 7-11 through six weekends would give them more wiggle room in the final month of the regular season.
Tennessee and Vanderbilt conclude its weekend series at 1 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon. ESPN2 is broadcasting the rivalry matchup as the Vols go for the sweep.