Tennessee Comes Back Swinging
After taking a punch Friday night and losing the opener of the Knoxville Super Regional to Notre Dame, No. 1 Tennessee on Saturday had its back against the wall, facing elimination. The Volunteers seemed to be unfazed by the situation and came out swinging in game 2.
Facing Notre Dame ace John Michael Bertrand, Tennessee scored a run in the first inning to take an early lead and then broke the game open with an eight-run fifth inning during which it hit four home runs. Armed with a nine-run lead and righthander Chase Dollander, the SEC pitcher of the year, on the mound, the Volunteers were off to the races. They went on to win, 12-4, setting up a winner-take-all game 3 on Sunday.
It was as good a response to Friday’s loss as Tennessee could have asked for. The Volunteers had their backs against the wall for the first time this season and were missing center fielder Drew Gilbert and pitching coach Frank Anderson, who were suspended following ejections in Friday’s loss. In Bertrand, they were facing Notre Dame’s best pitcher, who had stymied Texas Tech last week in regionals.
Put it all together, and Tennessee was facing as much adversity as it had all season long. It more than answered the bell.
“Our guys did a good job of coming to the park with some determination today,” coach Tony Vitello said. “It’s hard not to follow the lead of (Dollander). I think a lot can be said for that.”
Momentum is the next day’s pitcher, as the saying goes. And the Volunteers got to turn to Dollander, who has been their best pitcher this season and is a candidate to be the first overall pick in 2023. He held Notre Dame, which hit four home runs Friday night, to two runs on five hits and no walks in seven innings. He struck out five batters and improved to 10-0, 2.41 on the season.
Dollander had everything working for him Saturday in the biggest start of his career.
“The fastball was playing up really well today and I was able to use all four…