Tennessee athletics was known for a lot entering the 2021 baseball season but a rowdy and raucous home baseball environment was not one of them.
But that season, at least somewhat, changed that narrative as full capacity crowds returned post COVID-19 and Tony Vitello’s program broke on the scene with a SEC East championship and a run to the College World Series.
One of the most entertaining and rowdy series that season was when rival Vanderbilt came to Lindsey Nelson Stadium for a three-game series. Texas Rangers No. 4 prospect and former star Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter provided a behind enemy lines look at the crazy weekend in an appearance on The Two Percent Podcast.
“Tennessee was crazy,” Leiter said. “We were pulling up in the bus however many hours early and they hadn’t opened the gates yet and there were people lined up down the street just waiting to get in the building and it’s way before game time now. We’re like, okay, this is going to be cool.”
Fellow Vanderbilt star pitcher Kumar Rocker shoved in game one, posting seven scoreless innings while Vanderbilt took the series opener 5-0. That set the stage for a critical game two for Tennessee against Leiter.
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“They had this, I don’t know if it’s the frat guys or whatever it is but they’re right behind first base and there’s a group of like, it’s not that big of a group it’s probably like 30 guys but they’re crazy and they have this Twitter account and they’d be like tweeting at me after the Friday night game like, ‘we’re going to make Jack Leiter cry tomorrow’ and all this stuff. I knew it was going to be crazy and it was.”
Leiter was good against Tennessee but not dominant. The Vols hit three solo home runs against Leiter with left fielder Evan Russell hitting two of them. Catcher Connor Pavolony and Russell went back-to-back on Leiter in the fourth inning to give Tennessee a 2-0 lead.
“I gave up three solo homers that game and two to the same guy,” Leiter said. I remember one of them, one of them hurt a little bit because those dudes are chanting ‘overrated’ and I’m like, oh yeah? And I throw one and that pitch home run. So that one hurt.”
Even after allowing three solo home runs, Leiter left the game with Vanderbilt leading 4-3. That lead wouldn’t last as Tennessee scored five runs in the eighth inning including four on a Russell grand slam—his third homer of the game.
While Tennessee took game two of the series, Vanderbilt won the series finale. It’s the last win the Commodores have over Tennessee as the Vols are in the midst of a seven-game winning streak in the series.