The series opener between the No. 4 ranked Vols and the No. 1 Razorbacks saw the Vols get out to a big lead early, scoring 5 runs in the first inning highlighted by a three-run bomb from Jordan Beck that had Lindsey Nelson roaring. Despite the fast start, Tennessee went scoreless for the remainder of the contest. The Vols struggled to get anything going for the rest of the game as they were only able to muster three hits after the first inning, with only one of them occurring after the third inning. Arkansas pitcher Patrick Wicklander gave up 4 hits in the first inning, one in the second, and a sixth run in the third before being subbed out for Caden Monke, who did not allow a hit in his three-and-a-half innings he was on the mound. The Razorbacks put star pitcher Kevin Kopps on the mound in the 7th inning, and even though the Hogs star closer limped through the final innings, the Vols were not able to rally in the bottom of the 8th or 9th.
The Razorbacks got on the board with a two-run homer from Robert Moore off of Chad Dallas in the top of the 2nd inning and never looked back. Dallas continued to struggle, giving up another two-run homer to Brady Slavens in the top of the 3rd. After giving up two hits, two walks, and another run in the top of the 5th, Dallas was subbed out for Sean Hunley when the game was tied at five runs a pop. Hunley managed to only give up one hit and one run during his time on the mound, as Brady Slavens doubled down the right field line in the top of the 8th. Slavens ultimately made it home after a sacrifice fly by Robert Moore to put the Razorbacks ahead 6-5, which ended up being the final score of the game.
The Vols showed in game 1 that they can compete with the Razorbacks, as their explosiveness in the first inning got them out to a 5-0 lead before Arkansas could blink. While the game did not see Chad Dallas have his best night, he was still able to win the starting battle, and eventually the Vols kept the game so close that they were able to force the Razorbacks to put Kevin Kopps in, which allowed the Vols to get a lot of practice at the plate with Kopps on the mound leading into games 2 and 3.
In the postgame Zoom conference, Vols Head Coach Tony Vitello commented on Chad Dallas' performance on the mound.
"I think both pitchers were pretty amped up based off the circumstances and that's something you got to deal with, whether you're used to it or not,” Vitello said. “It's the SEC, it's Friday night, and then you sprinkle in the type of environment that we had here... there's going to be a lot of adrenaline and a lot of emotions running high. I think [Dallas] was kind of running out of his delivery here and there and probably a byproduct of what I was talking about there. At the same time he's facing good hitters, the ball was jumping in the park tonight. So, I think guys at the plate recognize that and also if they got any sort of barrel to the thing you're gonna have some damage, but it's fair to say didn't pitch as best, but but who's to say. He got us deeper into the game, or won the starter battle type of deal, but it just wasn't his best performance."
Although the Vols were not able to score any runs after the first inning, Vitello was not displeased with how the Vols performed and credits the Razorbacks for playing at a high-level.
"If I'm right, the next two innings [after the first] the leadoff guy [made] some good swings, but [we] didn't happen to score. When Caden Monke came in the game, he was really good. I don't know if you can say he was 'on' or whatever, maybe we helped him, but we saw a different look. It took us a little while to adjust to it. Part of the reason was [they had] really good stuff. We faced one of the best closers in college baseball (in Kevin Kopps) and I think put together really really strong at bats, but one thing that happened as the night went on was things got a little tighter. So again those emotions and the tension is running high. I didn't really see anyone go completely outside of themselves but when it gets down to the nitty gritty like that it's not as easy to push one across and they just happen to push one more than we did."
Vitello praised his players for their preparation for game 1 and was glad to see how well the Vols performed against Arkansas pitcher Patrick Wicklander.
"They (the players) were ready, they really were. And one side of you can say it doesn't mean a hill of beans now because you didn't get the result you want but they should take confidence in it. [They're] different nights, but we talked about other big series we've had where there's a lot of hype leading up to it, and maybe we didn't handle it quite as well on practice day and on game day. I thought the training going into this game was phenomenal, the environment and the mentality going into the game was phenomenal. And I think that's why they got to a guy (Wicklander) that's really really good. Maybe if he was to do an interview tonight, he'd say he didn't have his best stuff, but I think he ran into a group that was ready, and our guys need to take confidence in that... We didn't get as much after [the first inning], but there's also a lot of guys who didn't get anything off that guy."
Finally, when asked about how the Vols were able to hang with Kevin Kopps in the last few innings of the game, Vitello had more praise for his how his players performed.
"[We] were just competitive, I'd love to tell you we had some sort of top secret meeting or something like that. Like any pitcher that comes in, we have a couple things we kind of throw at them, as far as approach goes but it wasn't anything outside of the norm. As it relates to Kevin, we didn't get what we wanted at the end there partly because they play great defense and he made a couple big pitches. But some incredible at bats by our guys. And like I said every inning impacts the series. And you know what our guys were able to do was impressive, but he's also impressive and tonight was one of those deals where it was going to be an inch one way or the other and unfortunately for us, they accumulated a few more inches and we did."
The pitching for the Vols will have to be on point on Saturday in game 2, as Senior pitcher Will Heflin will have to get into a groove early if the Vols are to tie up the series, and sluggers such as Jordan Beck, Liam Spence, Drew Gilbert, and Evan Russell will have to bring a lot of energy to the plate against solid Sophomore Razorback pitcher Peyton Pallette.
All eyes are now turned to game 2 of the series, which will see the SEC Baseball heavyweights play at 12 p.m. ET at a packed Lindsey Nelson Stadium and will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
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