A very ‘Tennessee’ ending
All postseason, Tennessee left too many men on base and made too many fielding errors. On Sunday, Notre Dame took advantage and ended the Vols’ season, 7-3.
Starter Chase Burns was fantastic through six innings but gave up a one-out double to three-hole hitter Carter Putz in the top of the seventh. Instead of pulling the freshman, as the Vols clung to a 3-1 lead, Tony Vitello left him out there. Burns got one more out and then gave up back-to-back home runs to David LaManna and Jack Brannigan.
The Vols proceeded to meltdown in fantastic fashion in the eighth, as Camden Sewell, Burns’ replacement, plunked the leadoff batter, which Trey Lipscomb followed up with throwing error on what should have been an easy out at first.
Vitello yanked Sewell for Kirby Connell, who got one out and then surrendered consecutive, run-scoring base hits to Putz and Jack Zyska. Tennessee’s 3-1 lead became a 7-3 deficit, and that was enough to end Tennessee’s season.
The Vols’ offense wasn’t totally inept all the game, as they scored one run in each of the first, second and fifth innings to grab that 3-1 lead. But Drew Gilbert and Trey Lipscomb repeatedly came up short with poor at bats when runners were on base. Jordan Beck, Gilbert, Lipscomb and Jorel Ortega, hitters 3-6, finished the game 0-12 with four Ks. Combined, the team failed to push across five on-base runners.
Seth Stephenson was the lone offensive bright spot — he went 2-4, had the Vols’ only extra-base hit and accounted for two of Tennessee’s three RBIs. Luc Lipcius and Jared Dickey were the only two other Vols to record a hit.
It’s the players who didn’t get it done when it mattered, but it’s tough to not be critical of Vitello for leaving Burns out there in the seventh. He’d been great, yes, but the Vols had the entirety of their bullpen available and Vitello didn’t make the move. Granted, Sewell and Connell complicated matters further with their ineffectiveness once they got in, but who’s to say how things might have been different had Vitello given Burns the hook earlier?
Either way, the Vols looked like their regular-season selves for, at most, a couple innings this postseason. Silly fielding errors, poor starting pitching, the inability to push across runners who reached base — those were issues this team didn’t face real often in the regular season. Yet they ended up nails in the coffin of Tennessee’s baseball season.
Tennessee spent most of the season ranked No. 1, was widely considered the best team in the country by a pretty wide margin and failed to make the College World Series, despite having both the Regional and Super Regional rounds played at its home stadium.