Tennessee Baseball in the Knoxville Super Regional. Photo by Ric Butler/Rocky Top Insider.
PHOENIX, Ariz– Tennessee Baseball took Brazell Field on Grand Canyon University’s campus to take on the GCU Antelopes Saturday night in Phoenix. Looking to bounce back after Friday night’s season-opening loss, poor base-running and a few key defensive mistakes crippled Tennessee, and the Vols lost their second consecutive game, 4-3.
The Vols scores three runs in the fourth and fifth innings to take a 3-2 lead heading into the sixth, but the Lopes scored in back-to-back innings to regain the lead.
Tennessee’s pitching was solid once again, but too many mistakes offensively for the Vols thwarted any chance of a late-game surge.
Here’s what happened in the second-ranked Vols’ second loss of the season.
Grand Canyon Strikes First, but Chase Burns Finds a Groove
Tennessee was the road team for the second consecutive night and took the plate first. Starting center fielder Hunter Ensley, who made his first career start, worked a one-out walk to give Tennessee an early baserunner. However, Christian Moore flied out to RF, and Blake Burke bounced a grounder into Grand Canyon starting pitcher Connor Markl’s glove to strand the redshirt sophomore.
Like Chase Dollander on Friday, Chase Burns didn’t have the best first inning. The sophomore gave up a one-out single before elite short stop prospect Jacob Wilson roped an RBI triple down the right field line to give Grand Canyon the early lead.
Burns soon settled in, though, much like Dollander did on Friday. The Gallatin, Tennessee, native struck out a pair to end the first and strand Wilson at third, and he followed it up with a 1-2-3 inning in the second.
The Vols couldn’t get on the board in the second or third inning, with poor base-running hurting Tennessee in each frame. Austen Jaslove delivered a hard-hit single to Grand Canyon’s second baseman Zack Gregory, but Tennessee’s starting shortstop tried to reach second base and couldn’t beat the throw.
Tennessee got on base again in the third thanks to a Charlie Taylor leadoff single, but Taylor was caught stealing during Hunter Ensley’s at-bat for the second out of the inning. Ensley struck out shortly thereafter, keeping the Vols scoreless through three.
Cal Stark’s Long Ball Gives Vols the Lead
The Big Orange didn’t stay scoreless long, though. JuCo transfer catcher Cal Stark became the first Volunteer to leave the yard in 2023, knocking a two-run bomb over the left field wall in the top of the fourth to score himself and Zane Denton, who laid down a single in the prior at-bat.
Stark hit the home run after getting a strike called on him for stepping out of the box. Despite the violation, the Knoxville native kept his composure and drilled a two-run shot to give UT the lead.
Burns preserved Tennessee’s lead in the bottom of the fourth, dealing his second 1-2-3 inning of the night. After the fourth inning, Burns had faced the minimum in the past three frames and recorded six strikeouts.
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Tennessee added a run in the fifth thanks to a Christian Moore RBI single to score Jared Dickey, who had sent a one-out RBI triple to center field. It looked like the Vols were going to add more runs to their lead, as Moore’s single and a pair of walks loaded the bases, but Cal Stark grounded out to strand them.
Grand Canyon matched Tennessee’s run with one of their own in the bottom of the fifth, as Burns ran into some trouble with one out. Burns gave up a double to first baseman Eli Paton, who advanced to third on a wild pitch and came home on a sac fly to cut Tennessee’s lead to one run. After Burns allowed a two-out single to put runners on first and second for GCU, Vitello pulled Burns for senior left-hander Kirby Connell.
Connell Logs Massive Strikeout
Connell logged what may have been Tennessee’s most significant strikeout of the game, as the senior worked back from a 3-0 count to get Zack Gregory swinging and end the inning.
After they couldn’t get anything going at the plate in the top of the sixth, the Vols had a disastrous start to the bottom of the inning.
Charlotte transfer Andrew Lindsey took over the mound and was shaky to start. Lindsey gave up a leadoff single to star shortstop Jacob Wilson, who advanced to second on a wild pitch. Cleanup hitter Elijah Buries then laid down a beautiful bunt, and a Charlie Taylor throwing error allowed Wilson to score and for Buries to reach second.
Solid defense and favorable calls kept the game tied, though. Lindsey’s throw to Taylor was in time to tag Buries out at home when Homer Bush hit a dribbler to the mound. Taylor caught Bush stealing second shortly thereafter for the final out of the inning.
Blake Burke grounded into a double play in what was a quick, scoreless top of the seventh for Tennessee, and Grand Canyon took their second lead of the game in the bottom of the frame.
Grand Canyon Re-Takes Lead and Holds Off Vols
Eli Paton worked a leadoff walk, and leadoff hitter Cade Verdusco hit a single right to Austen Jaslove. Jaslove made an incredible play to snare the ground ball, but his throw was too low for Burke to scoop, and Paton scored on the error to take the lead.
Freshman outfielder Dylan Dreiling made his season debut at the plate in the top of the eighth with Denton on first and two outs. Dreiling connected for a hard-hit single to right field, but Denton rounded second and couldn’t beat the throw to third base. Verdusco’s throw to third was a rocket, but Denton wasn’t particularly close to beating it at all.
Thus, Tennessee entered the bottom of the eighth trailing Grand Canyon 4-3 due to more substandard base-running.
Andrew Lindsey did stranded a pair of Antelopes to keep the score at 4-3 heading into the ninth, but the Vols went down in order in the ninth to end the game.
Tennessee will look to avoid going 0-3 this weekend in Arizona when the Vols take on UC San Diego tomorrow in Mesa, Arizona.