Tennessee Baseball at the 2023 season home opener. Photo by Rocky Top Insider/Ric Butler.
Tennessee Baseball (15-4) suffered a 9-1 blowout loss to the Missouri Tigers (14-3) on a cold Friday afternoon in Columbia.
The Vols mustered just three hits and one run against a talented Tigers pitching duo made up of Friday starter Chandler Murphy and usual Saturday starter Rorik Maltrud.
The typically dominant Chase Dollander had an uncharacteristically poor outing on the mound for Tennessee. Things went south for Dollander early, as he gave up four one-out extra-base hits in the first inning to the Tigers. All four Tigers who had hits in the bottom of the first scored to put the Vols in an early 4-0 hole.
“Today, for whatever reason, they were all over whatever he was throwing,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said on Dollander’s pitching. “I said it on TV, during my mid-game interview, from my vantage point, it looked like the pitches were coming out good. I don’t know how great the location was because of the angle, but again, the swings were there for them.”
While he wasn’t perfect, Dollander was undoubtedly sharper after the disastrous first inning. The Vols ace allowed five more hits and two more runs before being pulled for junior RHP Andrew Lindsey in the sixth. Lindsey stranded a pair of runners in the sixth and sat the Tigers down in order in the seventh.
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However, the Charlotte transfer loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth, and all three Tigers ended up scoring. Only two were earned, though, as a throwing error from reliever Bryce Jenkins allowed the third run of the frame.
Offensively, Tennessee had their worst game of the season. Christian Moore was the only bright spot, accounting for two of Tennessee’s three hits and their only run. Moore gave the Vols their lone run of the game with a solo home run in the sixth inning.
Missouri starter Chandler Murphy was fantastic in six innings of work, and reliever Rorik Maltrud, who is the typical Saturday starter for the Tigers, was even better. Maltrud retired all nine batters he faced and struck out five to get the save.
“We hit some balls well that were right at people,” Vitello said on Tennessee’s day at the plate. “We also hit some balls off the cap that were right at people, so it wasn’t like we were stinging it all over the place.”
Vitello acknowledged that while Tennessee wasn’t making consistently good contact, Missouri was, and that was the difference in the game.
“If you just look at the game, based off how guys hit, they hit a bunch of hard line drives and we did not,” Vitello said.
Both teams had to battle chilly, windy weather in Columbia on Friday, but Vitello noted that weather was not the reason Tennessee struggled.
“You came to the park with it being so windy, thinking that might be a factor,” Vitello said. “But other than maybe we could have caught a ball and didn’t here and there, I don’t think that was going to be the difference in the game, so a big difference is, again, how the swings were.”
Tennessee’s poor day was not only their worst of the season, it was one of the worst in the past two seasons.
Stats on Tennessee’s 9-1 loss to Missouri to begin SEC play:
–Most runs #Vols have given up since April 18, 2021 vs. Vanderbilt
–Largest margin of defeat since March 9, 2021 @ Charlotte
–Most earned runs Chase Dollander has given up (6) at UT (most since 3/20/21 @ Troy)
— Jack Foster (@jackfostermedia) March 17, 2023
Following the game, Vitello mentioned that part of his message to the team will be on the loss, but he still has to figure out the schedule for the remainder of the weekend.
“Whatever the message is will be postponed,” Vitello said. “We gotta figure out what the schedule is tomorrow and what the schedule is Sunday, because of the weather. So, the first half [of the message] will be a little bit more about today, and the second half will be a little bit more about whats to come.”
As of now, Tennessee will look to avoid losing the first series of conference play on Saturday. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. ET, but weather could cause the first pitch time to change once again.