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Tennessee Baseball Knocks Off Northern Kentucky To Open NCAA Tournament

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Northern Kentucky led one at-bat into the game and had the Vols on the ropes in the first inning. But Tennessee responded at the plate and on the mound, using a dominant AJ Causey long relief outing to knock off the Norse 9-3.

Here’s how the Vols got it one in their Knoxville Regional opener to advance to the winner’s bracket.

A Short Outing From Chris Stamos

Tennessee opener Chris Stamos had gone at least two innings in his last five starts and had become reliable to open games for the Vols. But Northern Kentucky got to him early and Stamos was unable to get out of the first inning for just the second time since moving into the opener role.

Cleary Simpson opened up the game with a home run over the right field video board and Treyvin Moss followed it up with double to left field. Stamos got one out on a chopper to third but then Moss stole third and Tony Vitello went to AJ Causey in the middle of a 2-2 at-bat.

Causey came in and stranded the runner at third with a strikeout and a pop out to end the inning so the damage wasn’t awful. However, it forced Tennessee to accelerate its pitching plan and made the Vols eat more innings following Causey’s outing.

The good news is that Stamos threw only 16 pitches and will likely throw again if Tennessee plays four games this weekend.

Tennessee Takes Control With A Slow Burn Of Offensive Production

Tennessee didn’t have an immediate, explosive response to Northern Kentucky’s first inning lead. In fact, the Vols didn’t score in the first inning.

But the Vols ran starter Tanner Gillis from the game thanks to three straight strong innings at the plate. Tennessee tied the game in the second inning when Kavares Tears singled and advanced to second on a ground out. He scored an at-bat later when Reese Chapman singled to left field and Logen Devenport booted the ball allowing him to score.

Tennessee took the lead an inning later without recording a single hit. Three walks, a hit-by pitch and sac fly produced two runs to gives the Vols a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Tears walked to bring in the first run and Dean Curley had the sac fly.

The biggest inning came in the fourth inning with all three runs coming on one swing. Christian Moore doubled and Blake Burke walked before Billy Amick’s 20th home run of the season just cleared the center field wall.

The offensive success wasn’t overly explosive but it ran the Norse’s ace from the game and gave Tennessee a comfortable lead in the middle of the game.

More From RTI: Play-By-Play Of Tennessee Baseball’s Regional Opening Win Over Northern Kentucky

AJ Causey Picks Stamos Up

As previously mentioned, Causey stranded the runner he inherited at third base in the first inning. He wasn’t done picking Stamos up in a fantastic long relief outing.

Northern Kentucky totaled just two runs off of Causey— a sixth inning solo home run and a seventh inning triple followed by a groundout. The Norse looked like they were due for a Wright State esc offensive explosion in the first inning but Causey held them at bay.

Not only did Causey keep Northern Kentucky from putting up big number, he ate a ton of outs which was particularly important after Stamos’ short outing. Causey’s 6.2 innings pitched marked his longest relief outing of the season while his nine strikeouts were the most he’s recorded coming out of the bullpen.

Some of those strikeouts came in big moments too in the handful of innings that Northern Kentucky put runners in-scoring position with less than two-outs. Causey finished his afternoon allowing just five baserunners and throwing 111 pitches— the third time he’s done so this season.

Some Eighth Inning Insurance

Tennessee had a comfortable 7-3 lead in the eighth inning but Northern Kentucky remained in grand slam range that is the general rule for whether a team is still alive in late innings.

And it looked like that would be the score entering the ninth inning when Jared Teke retired Christian Moore and Blake Burke to open up the bottom of the eighth inning. Then Billy Amick walked and Dylan Dreiling roped a two-run homer into the Tennessee bullpen.

The long ball extended Tennessee’s lead to six runs and put the game away.

Box Score

Up Next

Tennessee baseball advances to face Indiana at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday night. The winner of the matchup advances to the Knoxville Regional Championship while the loser goes to the loser’s bracket.

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