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AJ Russell Returns As Tennessee Falls To Vanderbilt In SEC Tournament Opener

Photo By Kate Luffman/ Tennessee Athletics

HOOVER, Ala. — Tennessee baseball dropped its SEC Tournament opener on Wednesday night, falling to Vanderbilt 13-4 at the Hoover Met.

The Vols used a myriad of midweek pitchers following a poor Nate Snead start while AJ Russell made his return in a scoreless sixth inning.

Here’s everything to know about the game.

Things Get Away From Nate Snead In The Third Inning

Making the first start of the season, sophomore RHP Nate Snead made things look easy in the first two innings against Vanderbilt. He retired the Commodores on six pitches in the first inning. He allowed a softly hit single in the second inning but immediately erased it with a double play ball.

Snead even retired the first batter of the third inning before things quickly got away from him. He walked the eight-hole hitter than Calvin Hewett hit a double to right-center field to give Vanderbilt two runners in-scoring position.

The first scored on a Snead wild pitch and after a groundout, the right-handed pitcher looked like he might be out of the inning with a ground ball. But the Davis Diaz grounder got under Billy Amick’s glove as he ranged to his left.

RJ Austin reached on an infield single and then Alan Espinal ended Snead’s day by taking a 1-2 fastball deep to right-center field.

What began as a great start turned into a poor start for Snead as Vanderbilt took control of the game.

AJ Russell Makes His Return

For the first time in nearly two months, right-handed pitcher AJ Russell pitched for Tennessee baseball on Wednesday night.

Russell threw just one inning in his return and it started out dicey. He hit Vanderbilt’s leadoff batter and then allowed a hard hit single to left field. But the right-handed pitcher responded exactly how the Vols wanted, striking out a batter, getting a fielder’s choice and a strikeout to end the inning.

The sophomore’s final line: one inning pitched, one hit, zero runs, zero walks, one hit batter and two strikeouts on 22 pitched (15 strikes).

Tennessee’s need for Russell to help them in the postseason was also clear in the SEC Tournament opening matchup. Tony Vitello emphasized his desire to get a handful of pitchers who have been on the outside looking in during conference series action here in Hoover.

Those pitchers mostly struggled against Vanderbilt. Andrew Behnke was the best but still allowed a run on two hits in one inning. Dylan Loy particularly struggling, allowing two hit and a run while recording one out. Marcus Phillips allowed two runs in one inning pitched while Matthew Dallas allowed three runs in his one inning pitched. JJ Garcia allowed one run in his lone inning pitched.

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One Big Hit On A Quiet Night For The Offense

Tennessee opened the scoring in the second inning on a Hunter Ensley double and cut Vanderbilt’s lead to two runs with a Reese Chapman three-run home run in the eighth inning.

But other than that, it was a quiet night for Tennessee’s offense as they totaled just those four runs on seven hits.

The top of the order was particularly ineffective. Christian Moore had his first quiet game in over a month, going zero-of-four in the loss. Tennessee’s top four hitters combined to go three-for-14 with three walks.

So it wasn’t a good night for Tennessee’s offense but there were a couple bright spots. Reese Chapman had a good night at the plate, working a handful of good at-bats and hitting the ball hard even in plate appearances he didn’t reach base.

Dean Curley entered the game on a major slump but went one-of-two at the plate with a walk. It wasn’t anything massive but was a step in the right direction for the talented freshman.

Box Score

Up Next

Tennessee baseball returns to the field at approximately 2 p.m. ET on Thursday afternoon at the Hoover Met. They’ll face the loser of Wednesday night’s Mississippi State-Texas A&M game.

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