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‘He Grew Up A Lot’: Marcus Phillips, Tennessee’s Pitching Sends Vols To SEC Title Tilt

Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

HOOVER, Ala. — Vanderbilt baseball’s Alan Espinal pummeled a two-run homer off of Marcus Phillips in the Commodores’ blowout win over Tennessee on Wednesday afternoon. Phillips, a fringe weekend arm for the Vols, looked far from a reliable postseason option.

Just over 72 hours later, Phillips rose to the occasion against the same Vanderbilt lineup. He recorded the final nine outs to seal a 6-4 victory and send Tennessee to the SEC Tournament Championship for the third time in four years.

“He grew up a lot today,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said of Phillips. “It was good.”

Phillips pitched the final three innings for Tennessee. He blew past Vanderbilt in a dominant seventh inning, striking out the first two batters he faced and then getting a groundout on the third.

“I think early we weren’t getting ready and he was 99 to 100 that first inning and he kind of carved us up a little bit,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said of Phillips.

The challenge increased for Phillips in the eighth and ninth inning. The tall right-hander allowed two extra-base hits and walked two batters in the eighth inning. Vanderbilt scored one run and brought the go-ahead run to the plate.

Vitello kept rolling with Phillips and the sophomore got out of it, inducing a Matthew Polk chopper back to himself for the final out of the inning.

“Tough one to answer other than just gut feel,” Vitello said of rolling with Phillips. “Part of it is just communication with Frank, and a lot of times you just got to go with your gut. … There were some dicey moments in there where obviously we’re glad we stuck with him.”

The dicey moments weren’t over yet either. Vanderbilt’s first two batters singled in the ninth inning which brought the tying run to the plate. One of the runs scored but the tying run never got on base as Phillips shut the door on the Commodores.

Phillips earned the save after Zander Sechrist went six innings for the second straight start, holding Vanderbilt’s offense at bay on an evening Tennessee badly needed him to eat outs.

“You just got to grit it out, and our team followed Zander’s lead today,” Vitello said. “So we were blessed to have him out there … but I think he was even better tonight and kind of built off of last time out. So it was good the team followed him.

Phillips gave Vanderbilt a much different look and found success in a crucial spot. He allowed four hits, two runs and one earned run while walking two and striking out three. The numbers were great and the upper-90s fastball was impressive but him channeling it and being effective was the most impressive part.

“I think just the conviction. You can kind of see it when he’s steering it in there,” Vitello said of the key to Phillips’ success. “With him in particular, the harder he throws the better he throws because he’s so big and strong and the stuff is so good. … From the get-go that it was coming out of his hand with conviction.”

That conviction is key as Tennessee keeps trying to expand its options in the bullpen. Andrew Behnke did it against Mississippi State and Phillips did it against Vanderbilt. They provided a burst of confidence entering the NCAA Tournament and Tennessee is looking for more guys to follow their lead in Sunday’s title tilt against LSU.

“Some guys will have to look at Mr. Andrew Behnke and Marcus Phillips and say, I can do that as well.”

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