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Tennessee Baseball’s Win Over North Carolina Different But Not Surprising

Cal Stark catches against North Carolina in the 2024 College World Series // Photo via UT Athletics

OMAHA, Neb. — Tennessee’s offense didn’t explode in any one inning and totaled just seven hits in its 6-1 College World Series win over North Carolina on Sunday night. In that way, the Vols’ second win in Omaha was different than what they are known for, but that doesn’t make it surprising that they knocked off the Tar Heels the way they did.

“I think it just shows how versatile we are,” right fielder Kavares Tears said postgame.

“Friday night never really giving up even though we were down however much,” left-handed pitcher Kirby Connell said. “Just worried about the next pitch and tonight was getting off to a good start and kind of never took our foot off the gas.”

How Tennessee won its College World Series opener against Florida State is what this team’s known for. Twelve runs, a late game rally and six extra-base hits. That’s what people think of when they think of this team.

And the Vols can win that way. They’ve totaled double-digits runs 30 times this season and have won three games allowing double-digit runs.

But Tennessee can also win with pitching and defense. They won four SEC regular season and tournament games scoring four or less runs. After its win over North Carolina, Tennessee now has a 10-9 record in SEC and postseason games where they scored six or less runs. That record is 10-4 if you start after the series opening loss at Auburn that’s proven to be a turning point in the season.

Both pitching and defense were on display against the Tar Heels. Drew Beam, who struggled in his first three starts this postseason, was efficient and effective in five innings of one run baseball.

“I thought Drew Beam was really, really good,” North Carolina coach Scott Forbes said.

“There was conviction to it,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said of Beam.

The junior’s bounce back was a great sign. Tennessee needed him to be better if they were going to win the National Championship. He delivered in his first opportunity and a second one is now looking all the more likely.

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Don’t overlook the defense behind him either. No one will forget Hunter Ensley’s stellar catch running into the wall in center field in the second inning but that wasn’t the only nice play. Dean Curley, Christian Moore and Blake Burke all had impressive plays. The only defensive miscue of the whole night came on a grounder Billy Amick couldn’t corral in the fifth inning.

That’s important too. Tennessee’s defense has been sloppy the entire NCAA Tournament. Not just sloppy but “get you beat at some point” sloppy.

“The defense was outstanding on both sides,” Vitello said.

While it wasn’t the offense’s best night, it wasn’t bad either. There was the usual power surge— a Kavares Tears three-run homer that broke the tie in the fourth inning and a Reese Chapman solo shot an inning later. But there was also an ability to generate runs to help cushion the lead.

Tennessee capitalized when North Carolina walked Colby Backus on four pitches and promptly threw a wild pitch as Dean Curley drove him home with a two-out single up the middle. Another four pitch walk in the eighth inning led to a run when Dylan Dreiling singled and then Tears doubles to right field with two outs.

“Pretty good hitting too,” Ensley said. “Some clutch hits. Two-out hitting was really good so just finding different ways to win ball games.”

The win marked the first time ever that Tennessee’s won its first two games in the College World Series and the two wins came in radically different fashions. But the Vols have been winning in different ways all season and that bodes well for a team that’s a win away from advancing to their second College World Series finals in program history.

“I think we’ve won two different ways in Omaha than we have all year,” Ensley said. “That’s good for the confidence for the team.”

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