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Tennessee Baseball Drops Series Opener At Kentucky

Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Tennessee baseball led for six innings but defensive mistakes derailed a strong AJ Causey pitching performance as the Vols fell to Kentucky 5-3 in the Friday night series opener.

Here’s everything to know about the series opening loss.

A Quick Move To AJ Causey

Tennessee repeated its pitching plan from last week against LSU, using LHP Chris Stamos as an opener before turning the game over to AJ Causey.

But after Stamos went 2.2 innings last week, Tony Vitello went to Causey with runners on the corner and one-out. Stamos had thrown just eight pitches but there was a hard hit double and a fly out to the wall in center field.

“Just gut and treating the first inning like it’s the fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth was really about it,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said of the move postgame.

Vitello’s move paid dividends. Causey came in and got the Vols out of the jam. He got Kentucky’s top hitter Nick Lopez to pop out to second for out number two before Mitchell Daly flew out to right field to end the inning.

It was proactive move by Vitello to make the move when he did but it was extremely important in what proved to be a low scoring Friday night series rubber match.

Causey’s strong showing didn’t end after the first inning either. He turned in his second straight strong relief outing, allowing just five hits, one walk and three earned runs while striking out seven batters in 6.1 innings pitched.

Defensive Mistakes Cost Tennessee In Seventh Inning

Tennessee’s defense has been really good this season but as I wrote in my weekend preview, Kentucky would test it more than any other team has this season.

It didn’t come in a small ball opportunity, but defensive mistakes cost Tennessee in a big way as Kentucky took its first lead of the game in a three-run seventh inning.

RHP Nate Snead came in to pitch with Tennessee leading 3-2 and runners on second and third with two outs. Ryan Waldschmidt smokes a ground ball right at third baseman Billy Amick but the junior couldn’t make the play as the ball ricochet softly into left field.

The play was originally ruled an error before being changed to a base hit after the game.

That allowed the first run to score. But catcher Devin Burkes was the runner on second and he was playing with a bad hamstring. He was jogging home and a good throw from Dylan Dreiling easily would have got him and kept the game tied. Instead, Dreiling throw was way off line allowing Burkes to score.

“We had a chance to throw out a runner — (Kentucky catcher Devin) Burkes is not 100 percent on the base paths, so if we just play catch right there, we’ve got a chance to throw the guy out,” Vitello said. “I think that was a source of extra frustration. But otherwise, they put together a rally.”

The Vols defense was fine for most the series opener but two brutally timed mistakes on the same play cost them.

More From RTI: Live Updates From Tennessee’s Series Opening Loss At Kentucky

Tennessee’s Bats Turn In A Quiet Night

While there were defensive mistakes, the Vols inability to create consistent offense was as big a problem as any they had in the series opener.

Tennessee totaled just three runs, tying for its second lowest total in SEC play this season, doing it on only five hits.

The Vols top five hitters, who have been dominant this season, combined to reach base just five times and go three-for-18 at the plate.

“Maybe (need to be) a little bit quicker to adjust to some things we were talking about in the dugout either as coaches or players,” Vitello said. “The crowd gets excited or there’s a little more adrenaline in the air. I think the offense, and anyone involved, needs to be able to calm themselves a little bit.”

Tennessee had some scoring opportunities. In the fourth inning, Kavares Tears and Amick opened the inning with singles. In the eighth inning, Burke reached on an error and Amick was hit by a pitch to give the Vols two on with two outs.

The Vols certainly could have made things happen with those opportunities but for the most it was their inability to get baserunners that cost them.

Box Score

Up Next

Tennessee and Kentucky resume their three-game series at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon at Kentucky Proud Park. The SEC Network+ is streaming the game.

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