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Tennessee’s Stars Deliver As Vols Live To Fight Another Day

Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Tennessee appeared halfway in the grave when Christian Moore stepped into the batter’s box to leadoff the top of the fourth inning. The sophomore second baseman turned on a Tanner Hall offering for a double down the left field line.

A small spark led to a big inning for Tennessee baseball. The Vols hung a six-spot in the fourth inning to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish in an 8-4 victory.

In a year Tennessee replaced an abundance of stars, its projected studs — Moore, Blake Burke, Jared Dickey and Chase Dollander — played like stars and the Vols lived to fight another day.

“Earlier in the year, we wouldn’t do that (picked each other up) for each other,” Dickey said. “Just how close this team has gotten is really special.”

Griffin Merritt drove Moore home two at-bats following the leadoff double which set the stage for a game changing swing.

Blake Burke is the Tennessee star that hasn’t lived up to his billing for most of the season. The first baseman showed why pundits are so high on him, crushing a 479 foot home run to right field. Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said Burke “earned a Dairy Queen birthday cake” on his name day and the power hitting sophomore changed the season with the big swing.

“Sometimes when you have an emphatic dunk (in basketball), it can kind of shift the momentum a little bit,” Vitello said. “At times for us this year, he has hit them so long that it kind of changes the entire mood in the dugout and not just based off the scoreboard. … He’s capable of doing that when he’s using his best swing.”

Tennessee wasn’t done. Catcher Cal Stark worked a nine pitch two-out which flipped things back to the top of the Vols’ lineup. Maui Ahuna and Hunter Ensley reached setting the stag for Jared Dickey.

Dickey — who’s May hot streak has settled down since injuring his shoulder — went one-for-five at the plate in game two. But as he so often does, Dickey delivered in the clutch moment. The redshirt sophomore roped a 2-2 pitch up the middle. It would have been a two-RBI single but centerfielder Matthew Etzel misplayed the ball, allowing the bases to clear and Dickey to slide into third safely.

“I think really just trying to focus on staying to the ball,” Dickey said. “We knew that he had a little bit of (arm-side run) on his fastball and that he was going to throw his changeup a good bit, so just trying to sit one of those pitches. Got a pitch to hit and did damage with it.”

More From RTI: Complete Effort Propels Tennessee Past Southern Miss In Game Two

Tennessee added two more runs in the fifth inning but the six-spot in the fourth was enough for Chase Dollander. Vitello had the bullpen getting warm after Southern Miss tallied four runs off the junior in the third inning.

The Vols didn’t need anyone else for a long time. Dollander — who admitted the run support “definitely” calmed him down — retired 18 of the final 20 batters he faced including 12 straight at one point.

The swagger Dollander showed so often in 2022 but much less this season was abundantly clear. He squatted to the ground in a roar after striking out Tate Parker to end the fifth. The junior spread his arms wide and pointed to the scoreboard after Dustin Dickerson told him “you suck” after seventh inning ending strikeout.

“He is a really good pitcher,” Dickerson said postgame after the emotion of the moment faded. “We got to him early on and then kind of settled in after that. He has got an electric fastball. He has got three other pitches that he can land for strikes that keep you off balance. His fastball got some more ride as the game went on. That is a credit to him.”

Dollander’s day ended after surrendering a leadoff walk in the ninth inning. He handed the ball to another preseason All-American— Chase Burns.

Pete Taylor Park came alive as Burns fell behind 3-1 against Nick Monistere. Burns threw back-to-back fastballs including a 100 mph heater for strike three before inducing a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.

“I think the cool thing about these guys is that it was an emotional win but a quick reflection on it and move forward to tomorrow,” Vitello said. “Give us another day so we can try to come together a little about more.”

Tennessee has one more day of baseball for a chance at trip number two to Omaha of the Tony Vitello era and a week-plus of more baseball.

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