Despite a drastic contrast in its first two opponents, No. 15 Tennessee continues to flex its muscle and show off power in a variety of ways.
The first series of the 2021 season was a battle against Georgia Southern. Thanks to a couple of timely blasts from two different players in separate games, the Vols bested the Eagles on the road in a three-game sweep.
Tennessee then came home to explode for 21 runs against Arkansas Pine Bluff. Plenty of Vols were involved in an onslaught that carried over to the final game against the Golden Lions.
With two significant departures from 2020, a different lineup has suited the Vols well, so far. Tennessee has produced 52 runs in five games, while 18 batters have gone to the dish. The Volunteers rank sixth in the nation with nine home runs.
Here is a look at the driving force behind the strength for Tennessee, along with what lies ahead.
Power Bats Coming Up Clutch
Perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of the lineup is how well sophomore Jordan Beck has performed batting fourth in the order. With just 10 starts coming into this season, Beck has taken advantage of the primary cleanup role by leading the team in RBIs (8) and total bases (15). The outfielder didn’t waste any time showing off his strength, as he collected three RBI on Opening Night. Beck homered twice in the weekend series against Georgia Southern and drove in three runs in his only action versus Arkansas Pine-Bluff.
The only argument to be made against Beck not being the brightest revelation is the case of senior Liam Spence. The infielder has a hit in every game. But none was bigger than the grand-slam that Spence launched in the top of the 12th inning that clinched the series sweep of the Eagles on Opening Weekend. The senior leads Tennessee in runs (6), hits (7), and at-bats (19). Aside from one error, Spence has played clean in the diamond at multiple spots.
Sophomore Drew Gilbert is one of six Vols to play in every game. The two-way player is tied with Spence for second on the team in total bases with 11. On top of 2 IP, Gilbert has two home runs and four RBIs in 15 plate appearances. Both homers came in one game. The sophomore lifted Tennessee over Georgia Southern with his two-run shot in the top of the 9th. To match his power at the plate, Gilbert has also logged 12 SO in 10 IP from the mound in his short college career.
The Power in Arms
In addition to a wealthy arsenal at the plate, Tennessee showed some explosiveness on the mound. The most amusing sight was likely junior Elijah Pleasants. The righty showed off his fastball while efficiently working through 19 Eagles batters on Sunday. Out of 63 offerings, 44 were strikes. The junior’s 2021 debut was more than just a pleasant surprise, his performance proved he might solidify a weekend spot in the rotation. In his only appearance, Pleasants recorded six strikeouts and just two earned runs in 5.0 IP.
Will Heflin, and the usual.
By now, just about everyone knows the power of seniors Chad Dallas and Jackson Leath. The two combined for 12 IP, 2 runs, and 13 SO in separate performances over Opening Weekend.
What most don’t know about, or perhaps fail to remember, is the potency of fellow senior Will Heflin.
Heflin missed the small action of last year while recovering from knee surgery. Prior to the procedure, the senior was making the most of his third year on Rocky Top. The Morristown West product finished with a 4-1 record and 2.20 ERA. Of his last 36 IP, Heflin has retired 43 batters via strikeout. In his 2021 debut, the senior struck out eight Golden Lions in just 3.1 innings of work.
What’s Next for Vols
On tap for the Volunteers is a visit from the Sycamores from Indiana State. It will be the first-ever meeting between the two programs. The 4-game series in Knoxville is a trip that will be sandwiched between two trips to the state of Florida for the Sycamores. ISU won 4-0 on Opening Day against Pittsburgh in the Snowbird Classic, hosted in Port Charlotte, Florida. When the Sycamores leave Lindsey Nelson Stadium, they head back South to face three teams in the Sunshine State.
ISU went 8-6 in 2020. Two of its eight wins were road victories against Kansas. The Sycamores outscored the Jayhawks 18-6 in a 3-game series.
Two players to watch for ISU are seniors Geremy Guerrero and Max Wright. The former is a pitcher who has yet to give up an extra-base hit. In 5.1 IP, Guerrero has struck out six batters, while allowing just three hits. Wright leads State with eight total bases. He also a home run and two RBI under his belt.
The forecast in Knoxville looks bleak. Heavy rain is predicted all weekend. It would be impressive if these two programs get multiple games in. The series is set to start Friday at 4:30 p.m. EST, followed by a scheduled double-header and a Sunday game to wrap things up.