The No.4 Tennessee Volunteers find themselves making history while climbing the rankings in every notable composite. The Vols haven’t been rated this high in two decades. In-state rival and No.1 Vanderbilt is just around the corner. But first, Tennessee has to deal with No.11 Florida, as an unpredictable Gators team comes to Rocky Top.
Here are some notes and nuggets for this weekend’s SEC showdown.
While the Vols are batting just .271 as a team, they still find a way to get on base and create opportunities. Tennessee leads the conference in walks with 181.
The hot bat: Senior Liam Spence.
The shortstop has been spectacular as the leadoff man for head coach Tony Vitello. Spence’s emergence has helped alleviate the pains of a slow start from roommate and second baseman Max Ferguson.
Spence leads the team in batting, slashing .404/.523/.567. He is a solid defender as well.
Bats to watch …
Senior Pete Derkay is a sneaky element of Tennessee’s repertoire. Derkay is a utility that can DH, pinch-hit or play in the field. The senior has 22 hits in 87 to go along with a solid .398 OBP.
Vols’ junior Connor Pavolony drew some high praise coming into the season. The preseason All-American has been struggling at the plate, but reliable behind the dish. Pavolony has a .986 fielding percentage and has thrown out six of 16 stolen base attempts.
Despite an underwhelming average (.215), the catcher has a couple of 2-hit performances the past two weekends. Pavolony generated three hits and two walks in last Saturday’s game against Alabama.
Florida’s Power at the Plate
Despite playing one less game than Tennessee, Florida has produced more total bases (465) and home runs (35). The Vols have 454 total bases to 32 homers.
Most of the Gators’ power comes from draft-eligible sophomore Jud Fabian. The outfielder leads the team in home runs with 10. While Fabian is considered a top prospect for the upcoming draft, some see his stock falling due to a subpar average.
Freshman Nathan Hickey leads Florida in batting average (.369) and OPS (1.126). Sophomore Jacob Young is right behind Hickey, slashing .344/.427/.492. Both have appeared in every game for the Gators.
Where Tennessee Has an Edge
The Vols’ consistency gives them an upper hand this weekend.
Tennessee ranks third in the league in ERA (3.19) and first in walks allowed (73). Junior Chad Dallas will bring his undefeated career mark (7-0, 3.60 ERA) into his first meeting with Florida.
The Vols also stay busy on the base paths. Tennessee is first in the SEC in stolen bases with 40. Florida is second-to-last in the conference with just 13. With Spence at the top of the lineup, Tennessee keeps the order turning regularly despite average power numbers.
While Florida has some nice impressions on its resume, such as a sweep of Texas A&M, it also has blemishes. The Gators followed up the Aggie sweep by dropping three the next weekend at South Carolina. Florida is 1-4 on the road, so far. The only other loss was a 10-2 disappointment at Florida State. The lone win came against North Florida.
The Key to a Tennessee (Friday) Victory
Key Number: 5
- In all but one of the Vols’ losses, Tennessee gave up five runs or more. The same could be said for seven of Florida’s nine losses.
Why is this relevant?
Part of what has fueled the success of the Vols behind Dallas is the pitcher’s run support. In his 11 career starts, Tennessee is averaging 5.3 runs per game. The Volunteers have scored no less than three runs in any game opened by Dallas.
Getting off to a good start is crucial in an SEC series. The Vols didn’t do that last week, but it didn’t matter. The first game of this weekend may go to the first team to put 5 runs on the board. One would certainly like Tennessee’s chances in that regard.