Vols Baseball Offense Catches Fire Late, Chase Burns Deals in Relief as Tennessee Advances to SEC Tournament Championship
HOOVER, Ala. — The Vols and the Wildcats had scored two runs apiece after seven innings. Tennessee’s offense was as cold as it has been all tournament, but Chase Burns was wheeling and dealing in relief to prevent the Cats from taking the lead.
The tides eventually turned in Tennessee’s favor, though, like they often do.
The Vols posted a staggering ten runs on the scoreboard in the eighth and ninth innings to take a sizeable 12-2 lead and ultimately advance to the SEC Tournament Championship, where they will play Florida at 2 p.m. CT in Hoover Metropolitan Stadium on Sunday.
Burns’ terrific relief outing and the Vols’ offensive explosion powered Tennessee’s 52nd win of the season and third win in the tournament in the same number of games.
Here’s what happened.
Deja Vu for Jordan Beck
Last night against LSU, Jordan Beck got the Vols on the board first with a first-inning RBI triple, then scored on a wild pitch the very next pitch.
There was deja vu in Hoover Met for Beck as the junior outfielder smacked a two-out triple down the left-field line. This one wasn’t an RBI, but Beck was the first Vol to provide a big spark for the second straight night.
And then the real deja vu set in, as Beck scored on a wild pitch on the very next pitch like the night before. Beck’s run gave the Vols a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the frame, where Tennessee’s starting pitcher freshman Drew Beam would take the mound for his first postseason start.
Beam faced a little adversity in the first, surrendering a pair of one-out walks to give Kentucky its first two baserunners of the evening. But the freshman regained his composure striking out Kentucky third baseman Chase Estep and retiring shortstop Ryan Ritter, who grounded out to strand the pair of Wildcat runners.
Tennessee went down in order in the top of the second, but Evan Russell’s flyout to end the inning nearly gave the senior his program record-setting 39th career home run, as Russell hit a rocket deep to left center that stopped at the warning track.
Beam stayed composed in the bottom of the frame, striking out a pair before walking Kentucky’s best bat as of late, Devin Burkes, who was caught stealing on a wild pitch by Evan Russell, making the Lexington, Tennessee, native 2-4 on catching runners in Hoover.
The Vols couldn’t get going again in the third, as Cotto retired the Vols in order for the second straight inning.
Beam looked good to begin the bottom of the third, retiring his first two batters of the frame with a strikeout and a groundout. But Hunter Jump then connected with a single to center for Kentucky’s first hit of the game, and Daniel Harris IV worked a two-out walk to give the Wildcats two baserunners for the second time. Estep nearly shelled Beam on the next at-bat, clobbering a baseball that flew just foul in right field. Beam was able to strikeout the Wildcat third baseman just three pitches later to remain unscathed. With the strikeout, Beam had logged six strikeouts and had stranded four Wildcats through three. After three innings, only one Vol had gotten on base compared to Kentucky’s four, but Tennessee’s baserunner in Jordan Beck was the only one to make it home.
Kentucky Makes Pitching Change, Vols Extend Lead
Things started to pick back up in Hoover Met at the top of the fourth. Jordan Beck worked a one-out walk before Drew Gilbert connected for a hard-hit single right to the first baseman, who struggled to corral the bouncer. The single gave Tennessee two baserunners with one out, causing Nick Mingione to go to the bullpen for the first time of the evening. The first Wildcat arm out of the pen was sophomore RHP Austin Strickland, who gave up an RBI single to Trey Lipscomb that brought home Beck from second. Strickland was able to retire Ortega and Russell and strand Lipscomb and Gilbert, but not before the Vols had struck again to take a two-run lead.
Chase Burns is First in Relief
In the bottom of the fourth, Ryan Ritter led off with a double before being moved to third on an Oraj Anu groundout, and Drew Beam’s day was done.
Vitello went to the pen for the first time of the game, bringing in freshman RHP and typical starter Chase Burns. Vitello’s decision was, as Burns was likely the favorite to start Sunday.
But it worked out to be the right decision, as Burns struck out a pair around a two-out walk to strand runners on the corners and preserve Tennessee’s 2-0 lead, hitting triple digits on the gun in the process.
Tennessee had stranded six Wildcats through four innings as Beam and Burns continued to find ways to remain unscathed.
Kentucky Gets on the Board
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After an incredible fourth inning in relief, Burns was far from incredible in the fifth. The freshman gave up back-to-back one-out doubles that allowed Hunter Jump to score off of Daniel Harris IV’s extra-base hit. Harris IV would then steal third after Chase Estep fouled out to left, and the Kentucky second baseman scored after Evan Russell let a third-strike pitch get away from him.
Burns’ striking out Ryan Ritter was the final out of the frame, but the slider sailed past Russell to allow Harris IV to score and tie the game.
Ritter later stole second, but Burns kept him there to keep the game tied at two runs apiece by striking out Wildcats’ designated hitter Oraj Anu.
Burns Bounces Back
Tennessee put two on in the top of the sixth after a leadoff infield single by Luc Lipcius and a two-out intentional walk to Trey Lipscomb, but Strickland stranded the pair of Vols by getting Jorel Ortega to line out right to the left fielder.
Burns put together his first 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the frame, striking out Burkes and Plastiak after getting Fogel to dribble a groundout to shortstop.
Burns carried over his sixth inning success into the seventh, retiring the Cats in order, truly finding his rhythm on the hill in Hoover Met.
Burns’ success in the two frames was crucial for the Volunteers, as the bats couldn’t get going in the seventh. Cortland Lawson worked a two-out walk, but pinch-hitters Blake Burke and Kyle Booker, along with Evan Russell were retired by Strickland.
Vols Tack on Four Runs in the Eighth
In a marathon top of the eighth, the Vols found a way to break the tie and more.
The Vols loaded the bases with back-to-back singles from Luc Lipcius and Jordan Beck with no one out and a one-out single by Trey Lipscomb. Up next to bat was Jorel Ortega with the bases juiced, and the sophomore second baseman was plunked to drive in a run.
Evan Russell struck out, but a wild pitch during Blake Burke’s at-bat would score Beck and move Ortega and Lipscomb to second and third.
After Burke was intentionally walked, Cortland Lawson padded Tennessee’s lead with a two RBI smoked double to left center to score Lipscomb and Ortega. Burke tried to score, but he was tagged out right before touching home plate to end the top of the frame.
Still, the Baseball Volunteers found a way to impose their will on Kentucky for the first time all game.
Jared Dickey Returns to Action, Burns Continues Amazing Relief Outing
Kentucky’s Ryan Ritter got on base in the bottom of the eighth with a one-out single that featured a throwing error by Jorel Ortega to allow the Wildcat shortstop to advance to second. Ritter later stole third, but he was stranded there, just like many Kentucky baserunners were on Saturday night/early Sunday morning.
After Ritter, Burns struck out the next two batters, continuing his elite relief outing.
Tennessee utility man Jared Dickey officially made his return to action in the ninth inning in a pinch-hit situation, as Dickey came on to hit for Kyle Booker.
And Dickey immediately delivered a single to left field on the second pitch of his at-bat.
The Vols dominated Kentucky’s relievers in the ninth, posting six total runs in the frame thanks to a Drew Gilbert two-run double, a Trey Lipscomb sac fly and a Blake Burke three-run moonshot. Burke’s bomb marked the 12th of the season for the freshman, and the SEC Tournament-marked baseball sailed well over the right-field wall in Hoover Met.
The Burke homer was the nail in the coffin that had already been manufactured for the Blue and White, and Wyatt Evans sent it back up north with a three strikeout stamp of a ninth inning.
The top-ranked BaseVols will take on seven-seed Florida in the SEC Tournament Championship at 2 p.m. CT in Hoover Metropolitan Stadium on Sunday. ESPN2 will have the broadcast.
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