On Thursday night, the No.4 Tennessee Volunteers stumbled into a hole early against the Kentucky Wildcats. UK got off to a 3-0 lead, adding to a dismal innings streak for UT.
It began to look like the poor qualities from Tuesday night’s upsetting loss to Lipscomb had carried over into this weekend’s series. Then the Vols (33-10, 13-6) erupted for 12 runs in the second and third innings combined. After giving up four runs in the first three, starting pitcher Chad Dallas settled in by tossing three scoreless for the rest of his performance. The junior logged a career-high 105 pitches. It’s the third time Dallas has topped the 100-pitch mark this season.
According to head coach Tony Vitello, it was a “blood and guts effort” by everyone involved, particularly headed by his starter on the mound. “That’s a lot of who Chad and his teammates are,” Vitello said in Thursday’s post-game presser, describing the team’s response from getting down early.
Tennessee went on to win 14-4. It was the 10th victory of Dallas’s Volunteer career. The junior has just one loss on his resume after joining the Vols.
So, what does this performance mean for the rest of the three-game series?
Ride the Tennessee Wave
Coming into the weekends series, Kentucky (25-14, 9-10) ranked first in slugging percentage, second in OBP and third in batting average. The Cats are averaging 6.8 runs their past four games. UK beat Alabama in two of those contests, outscoring the Tide 18-6 in a double-header. The two games were only seven innings, as allowed by NCAA rules for Sunday contests.
Tennessee will have to continue keeping the scoreboard operator busy in order to top the Wildcats. The Vols have scored 45 runs in their last four SEC games, including 34 in the last two.
Key Players to Watch
The transfer senior started his 12th game of the season in place of junior Connor Pavolony, who Vitello tabbed “a late scratch” for Thursday’s contest.
Pavolony, a preseason All-American, was hit in the hand during an at-bat in the Vanderbilt series nearly two weeks ago. After playing in all three games versus Texas A&M last weekend, Pavolony seems to be dealing with ailments from the injury. Vitello said it’s a situation that “requires rest” if the Vols “want to be sure he’s going to be good going down the home stretch.”
Greer has filled in just fine for his teammate. The senior is batting .333 with seven extra-base hits in 39 at-bats. Greer hit his second home run of the year against UK on Thursday night.
The sophomore may have gotten off to a rocky start in his second year at Tennessee, but McLaughlin has been stellar of late. After giving up six earned runs through his first six appearances, the sophomore hasn’t surrendered any in his last six. During the scoreless streak, McLaughlin has tossed 11 innings, striking out 12 batters and giving up just two hits.
According to Vitello, McLaughlin is capable of leading a star-studded staff. “When he is in the zone, he’s one of our best guys,” Vitello said after Tuesday’s loss. “He’s capable of filling that role as long as he attacks hitters.”
McLaughlin logged 3.2 scoreless innings in the defeat.
Ranked No.17 catcher in D1 Baseball’s preseason rankings, Kessler is one of the best catchers and sluggers in the country. Vitello says the senior is “a real star in this league” and “real force at the plate.”
Kessler came into the weekend series leading the SEC with a .388 batting average. He also leads the Cats in OBP (.475). The Vols limited the catcher to just one hit in Thursday’s contest. Kessler stuck out twice against UT.
The junior utility came into the Tennessee series second in the league in stolen bases, with 17. He’s only been caught twice. Not only is Schultz dangerous on the base paths, but he can also slug as well. The junior has 16 XBH on the year, including four home runs. Schultz was hitless Thursday night, despite an OBP of over 40% coming into Knoxville.