The Vols played in a postseason baseball game on Saturday, but not without participating in their own Home Run Derby, first.
Liam Spence led off the game against Liberty and took the ball exactly where Drew Gilbert last left it Friday night. Past the outfield, over the fence, and onto the railroad tracks.
Luc Lipcius added another long ball in the 2nd inning. He was followed by Spence, who found his second home run on the day in as many innings.
The third inning was no different. Gilbert joined the party with a solo shot, followed by another home run from Lipcius.
If you’re having trouble keeping up, that’s five home runs from the Vols in the first three innings. A game was certainly played Saturday evening, but the first couple of innings were a Rocky Top Home Run Derby.
Tennessee defeated Liberty 9-3 on the second day of the NCAA Regional in Knoxville, opening the door to win the region with a victory on Sunday.
Tennessee’s Supercharged Bats Were Too Much For Liberty
After the biggest and most dramatic win of the season on Friday night against Wright State, Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello was able to keep his team red hot heading into their next game.
The Vols dominated Liberty from the opening pitch and never let the Flames get within four runs.
Tennessee led 7-0 after the first three innings thanks to the barrage of home runs to start the game. Spence and Lipcius both had two long balls in three innings, and Gilbert added in one of his own.
The next couple of innings were quiet for Tennessee, as they would go scoreless until the eighth. After Liberty’s starter was pulled in the third inning, the Flames would end up using three different relief pitchers to get through the seventh. They would combine to only give up one hit to the Vols in that span.
Tennessee’s Tidwell Shined as the Vols’ Crowd Roared
Blade Tidwell had the starting nod for the Vols and pitched an incredibly strong performance. Tidwell was taken out of the game during the sixth inning but threw five stellar scoreless innings beforehand.
The right-hander gave up three runs in the sixth to the Flames, which are also certainly attributed to crucial errors made by Jake Rucker and Jordan Beck in the inning. Regardless, the Vols were able to get out of the inning and close the clamps down for the rest of the game.
The orange-clad crowd in Lindsey Nelson Stadium left the ball-park on Friday night red hot, as close to 4,000 fans packed into the park and witnessed a moment that will live in the history books forever. And luckily for them, they didn’t have to wait long for a reason to make noise on Saturday.
Consistently, the environment that Tennessee is able to have at home continues to prove to be a difference-maker. Dylan Cumming, Liberty’s starting pitcher on the day, was noticeably rattled early after a sea of noise continued to close in on the field like waves on a beach during a thunderstorm.
After having the chance to catch their breath during the middle innings of the game, Tennessee’s crowd erupted in the eighth inning. Pete Derkay hit a rope down the right-field line with men on base, sending Lipcius and Gilbert around the bases to extend Tennessee’s lead.
Liberty Loses Coaches While Tennessee Loses Baseballs
For all the joy and laughter going on in the Tennessee dugout on Saturday, the Liberty dugout was the complete opposite thanks to a few key moments.
Liberty head coach Scott Jackson was ejected from the game by home plate umpire Angel Campos in the seventh inning after a discussion regarding a strikeout from one of his players. Then, pitching coach and acting coach Matt Williams was also ejected in the eighth inning.
The Vols blasted five home runs and two of Liberty’s coaches were blasted out of the game.
Sometimes… that’s just how baseball goes.
Overall, this was nothing but a dominant performance from the Vols, which is exactly what the team needed after frankly playing eight innings of below-average baseball on Friday.
Every phase of the game clicked for Tennessee. The pitching, starting out with Tidwell and ending with Kirby Connell and Camden Sewell, did exactly what they needed to do. The staff as a whole combined for seven strikeouts as they only gave up three runs on eight hits.
The offense, on the other hand, didn’t wait until the end of the game to really get going this time around. After the opening home run from Spence, followed by the next four over the next three innings, Tennessee gave their pitching staff the chance to work with a massive lead. And in the postseason, there is not much more you can ask for.
Tennessee’s Updated Route to the Super Regionals
The Vols will have to very adaptive over the next two days, as a number of different things could change their route out of the weekend. But overall, Tennessee will have the chance to win the regional on Sunday, but also on Monday if they happen to lose Sunday.
The regional brackets are in a double-elimination format, meaning Tennessee cannot take their first loss in the final game and have that count as two.
Wright State was eliminated from the bracket after losses to Tennessee and Duke. The Blue Devils did lose to Liberty on Friday, beforehand. Meanwhile, Liberty was just handed their own first loss by Tennessee after beating Duke on Friday.
On Sunday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, Duke will take on Liberty in a rematch from Friday at 2 p.m. ET. The winner of that game will turn around and take on Tennessee that same day at 6 p.m. ET.
Long story short, the Vols will play Liberty or Duke on the back end of a doubleheader on Sunday. If they win, Tennessee will have won the regional. If they lose, those same two teams will play Monday at 1 p.m. ET.
Confused? I know, just hang in there. Welcome to postseason baseball!
Will Heflin is the expected Sunday starter for Tennessee, as the Vols prepare to play in front of their home crowd for a third straight day with a spot in the Super Regionals on the line.
Stay tuned to Fox Sports Knoxville for continued coverage on-air and online for the 2021 Tennessee baseball postseason.
All Photos Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics Communications.