OMAHA, NE. — Tennessee baseball entered the College World Series with a home run heavy offense that struggled to string hits together at different points in the season.
That didn’t bode well for the Vols on an afternoon the wind was blowing in at the already pitcher friendly Charles Schwab Field.
“There’s probably one or two guys on our team that could get it out of there today,” left fielder Jared Dickey said postgame.
With its season on the line, Tennessee’s offense adapted and used single-after-single to come from behind to defeat Stanford 6-4 and stave off elimination for at least one more day.
“Staying with our process,” third baseman Zane Denton said. “We know what we’re playing for. We’re one game away from going home so it’s just playing for each other and good things happen when you play for each other.”
Tennessee had success against Stanford ace Quinn Mathews from the jump, totaling two hits in each of the first two innings. But the Vols couldn’t get a run across in either inning and Matthews seemingly got into a groove from there, retiring the side in order in the third and fourth inning.
Trailing 4-0 in the fifth inning, Tennessee’s back was against the wall and its season on the brink. Just like they did last week against Southern Miss, the Vols fought back. But unlike against Southern Miss when a pair of big swings did the damage, Tennessee came storming back against Stanford with an onslaught of singles.
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The Vols totaled six singles in the fifth inning in addition to a walk and a sac fly. Dickey and Christian Moore provided the two biggest hits as the Vols erased Stanford’s four-run lead.
Tennessee’s offensive process was no accident. Vol players had a consistent reminder from their head coach.
“I think it was during that fifth inning, whenever we were rallying, you’re hearing V(itello) shout-out from the dugout hands out on top,” Dickey said. “Whenever he does that, hands out on top, obviously, hit line drives. We knew if we hit the ball in the air it wasn’t going to do anything.”
Tennessee’s first 10 hits were singles until Blake Burke doubles down the left field line to give the Vols runners on second and third with one-out in the seventh inning. The Vols’ first extra-base hit was a big one. Denton drove the go-ahead run home on a RBI groundout and Burke provided insurance scoring on a wild pitch in the ensuing at-bat.
Twelve of Tennessee’s 13 hits were singles, an uncharacteristic way for a power hitting offense to have success. While that was surprising, Tennessee’s ability to get contributions up-and-down its lineup was not.
Every bat in Tennessee’s lineup has had a defining moment in the back half of the season and nearly all had a defining moment Monday afternoon.
Maui Ahuna and Dickey led the way with three hits each but Burke and Denton each recorded two themselves. Only two batters in Tennessee’s lineup didn’t record a hit and one of them — Hunter Ensley — drove in a run with a sac fly.
The balanced effort propelled Tennessee to its first win at the College World Series since 2001. Tennessee did it in come from behind fashion again, something that’s become this team’s calling card after being anything but for the first half of the season.
“That was a theme early in the year,” Vitello said. “We expected to do great things right out of the chute, and when it didn’t go well guys got deflated. Somewhere along the year we learned to respond the right way: When it gets tough, you’ve got to get a little tougher, whatever cliché you want to throw at it.