Chase Burns vs. Gonzaga//Photo via Tennessee Athletics
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– Third-ranked Tennessee Baseball defeated the Gonzaga Bulldogs with a BLANK win on Saturday night to clinch the three-game weekend series.
Despite missed opportunities by the Tennessee offense in the first and fifth innings, a five-run seventh inning powered Tennessee to the win.
Per usual, Tennessee had a good showing on the mound. Tennessee starting pitcher Chase Burns settled after a rocky start, and Kirby Connell and Seth Halvorsen were sharp out of the bullpen to keep the Bulldogs scoreless in the final 2.2 innings.
Here’s what happened on a chilly Saturday night in Knoxville as Tennessee clinched the series against Gonzaga.
Chase Burns Settles After Shaky Start
Chase Burns wasn’t the typical Chase Burns early in Saturday night’s game.
After getting a pair of groundouts and a strikeout in the first inning, Burns was shaky in the second. The sophomore gave up back-to-back hits, a single and a double, to give Gonzaga runners on first and second with one out.
Gonzaga’s hitters were doing a good job hitting Burns’ fastball, and Jared Dickey didn’t help matters as he was unable to catch designated hitter Grayson Sterling’s double. It was not ruled an error, as it would’ve been a great catch by Dickey, but the baseball still bounced out of the left fielder’s glove.
The Bulldogs took advantage with runners in scoring position when eight-hole hitter Sam Canton drilled a two-run double into right center.
Burns prevented any further damage, though, getting nine-hole hitter Ezra Samperi to flyout to Jared Dickey in left field.
The Gallatin, Tennessee, native did a great job with runners on throughout the rest of his outing and never allowed multiple baserunners in an inning after the second.
Burns’ fastball was more effective as the game progressed, and Gonzaga’s hitters were struggling mightily to hit his changeup.
Arguably Burns’s best inning was his last full frame in the sixth, when the Saturday ace retired the Bulldogs in order and added his seventh strikeout.
After striking out his eighth and final batter to begin the seventh inning, senior LHP Kirby Connell took over on the mound and retired his first two batters to end the inning.
Tennessee’s Offense Misses Opportunities
Tennessee’s offense continued their trend of struggling with runners on base and displaying poor baserunning against the Bulldogs.
The struggles started as early as the first inning, when Tennessee stranded the bases loaded.
Christian Moore, Blake Burke and Zane Denton all got on base with one out, but Griffin Merritt and Maui Ahuna, who only saw three pitches, both struck out swinging to strand them.
In addition to Tennessee missing a big opportunity in the first three innings, the Vols also got dealt a hand of bad luck in the bottom of the third.
After Chrisrtian Moore worked a leadoff walk, power-hitting lefty Blake Burke smoked an extra-base hit to the right field wall. Originally ruled a triple that drove Moore home, the ruling was overturned to a ground-rule double to keep Burke and Moore at second and third, respectively.
Griffin Merritt drove in a run with a sac fly, but that was all Tennessee could do in the inning. If Burke’s triple had stood, the Vols would’ve likely added at least one more run in the third.
Tennessee had a pair of baserunners with one out again in the bottom of the fifth thanks to a Jared Dickey single and a fielding error by the Gonzaga second baseman, but the Vols couldn’t bring anyone home due to a baserunning mistake.
Zane Denton struck out with Burke at first and Dickey at third, and Burke attempted to steal second but was thrown out.
The mistake kept Tennessee at a one-run deficit after five innings, but the Vols found a way to tie it up an inning later.
Trio of Long Balls Power Tennessee to the Win
Tennessee scored their second run of the evening in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game when center fielder Kyle Booker crushed a 3-2 pitch over the right center wall for a solo home run.
Booker’s homer served as his first of the season and was much-needed for Tennessee in a tight game against the Zags.
The Vols then took the lead in the bottom of the seventh, when Burke ripped a three-run bomb over the Tennessee bullpen to mark Burke’s seventh home run of the season.
And Tennessee wasn’t done in the seventh.
Zane Denton worked a walk after Burke’s homer, and Griffin Merritt brought him home with a two-run shot off the batter’s eye.
On Friday night, Tennessee cruised to the win thanks to a six-run sixth inning. On Saturday night, it was a five-run seventh inning.
Both of those innings in the respective games were the first frames Gonzaga had to go to their bullpen. On Saturday, all of Tennessee’s five runs in the seventh came against the Bulldogs’ relief pitcher Payton Graham.
Tennessee Bullpen Does Its Job
Unlike Gonzaga, Tennessee’s bullpen did its job. Connell and Seth Halvorsen gave up no runs in 2.2 innings to keep Gonzaga at two runs.
What started off as an unsteady night on the mound finished as another great performance from the Volunteer pitching staff.
After Gonzaga scored a pair of runs in the second inning, Burns, Connell and Halvorsen limited the Bulldogs to just three hits and one walk.
Tennessee will look to go for their second consecutive series sweep this season when the Vols take on Gonzaga for game three on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. Sophomore right-hander Drew Beam (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will start on the mound.