HOOVER, Ala.-- Top-ranked Tennessee entered Hoover with one goal in mind: to play good baseball.
And play good baseball Tennessee did. The Vols won their first game of the SEC Tournament against Vanderbilt 10-1, hitting two homers and recording ten total hits.
The Vols' win improves their season record to 50-7, marking the fourth time in program history Tennessee Baseball has accumulated 50 or more wins. The win over Vandy also marks the fourth win for UT over their in-state rival this season, the first time the Big Orange have defeated Vanderbilt baseball four times in a single season since 1994.
The Vols advance in the winner's bracket in Hoover with their thumping win over the Black and Gold, and the top-ranked Vols will face off against the winner of the LSU vs. Kentucky game.
Tennessee's bats got going early with a Drew Gilbert two-out RBI double in the bottom of the first to score leadoff man Seth Stephenson who had been plunked to start the game.
The Vols were scoreless in the second, as aggressive baserunning by Luc Lipcius ended the inning to squander a chance at more runs. However, in the third, Tennessee blew it open, plating five runs to take a commanding 6-0 lead after three frames.
Tennessee scored their five runs in the third on five of nine at-bats, as the Vols went through the entire order beginning with Seth Stephenson and ending with Cortland Lawson.
After Seth Stephenson led off with a single, Vols' sophomore second baseman, Jorel Ortega, quickly brought him home with a double to left-center. Ortega then scored off an RBI single from Drew Gilbert, who connected for his second RBI of the evening. Gilbert's first two RBIs came on the first pitch of each at-bat, as the star junior outfielder once again showed his elite ability to put together quality plate appearances.
Trey Lipscomb followed Gilbert in Tennessee's order, working a 2-2 count before Vanderbilt went to the bullpen for the first time of the game to bring in junior RHP Nick Maldonado in relief of starting freshman LHP Devin Futrell. Maldonado ultimately plunked Tennessee's home run leader before giving up a one-out RBI double from Evan Russell that scored Gilbert and moved Lipscomb to third.
The Vols' fourth run of the inning came via a sac fly by Luc Lipcius to score Lipscomb, which also moved Russell to third. Russell was the final Vol to score in Tennessee's best inning of the game, coming home on a two-out RBI single by Christian Moore.
The Vols' mammoth bottom of the third came after starting sophomore RHP Blade Tidwell had delivered the biggest strikeout of his outing to strand runners on the corners that kept Vandy scoreless through three. Tidwell's impressive work to get out of a jam in the third followed up back-to-back quick innings, as the sophomore had retired six of seven batters to begin the evening.
Tidwell's solid day continued into the fourth, where he retired a pair with a K and a groundout. Tidwell did allow a one-out single to Vanderbilt DH Parker Noland, but super-senior catcher Evan Russell caught him stealing at second for the second out of the frame.
The Vols were able to continue their success at the plate in the bottom of the fourth, scoring another run off a Trey Lipscomb RBI single to left-center to score Seth Stephenson, who had once again gotten on base, this time reaching on a fielding error by Vanderbilt third baseman Davis Diaz.
Evan Russell grounded out to strand a pair of baserunners and end the fourth, but the Vols had a comfortable 7-0 lead over the Black and Gold through four.
Tidwell's day was done after a leadoff solo homer from Carter Young and a one-out single by Davis Diaz to right-center in the fifth, as junior LHP Kirby Connell was the first out of the pen to relieve Tidwell.
Connell's first pitch thrown of the evening resulted in Enrique Bradfield Jr. grounding into a double play to end the top of the frame and strand Diaz.
Tidwell's line was then finalized: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 HR, 3 BB, 3 K, 41 strikes on 76 total pitches against 18 batters.
The Vols answered Vandy's first run of the game to keep the seven-run lead with one of their own. Vanderbilt gave the ball to sophomore righty Grayson Moore, which gave Vitello the confidence to let left-handed hitter Blake Burke pinch-hit for Christian Moore with one out.
Burke then did what he does best: blast a homer.
Burke left the yard on the third pitch of his at-bat, clobbering a 1-1 pitch over left-center to give Tennessee an 8-1 lead. Burke's homer marked his 11th of the season and first-ever home run in a postseason game as a collegiate athlete.
Tennessee didn't do much else in the fifth, and Connell got the ball once more to begin the sixth inning. The Commodores were able to succeed at the plate, loading the bases with a pair of singles and a walk, all with two outs. Connell prevented a Vanderbilt run with some help from third baseman Trey Lipscomb.
Vandy catcher Jack Bulger grounded to third, where Lipscomb picked up the baseball with his bare hand and fired the throw to Luc Lipcius at first. The throw was cross-body and just in time for the final out of the inning.
Tennessee could not bring anybody home in the sixth, as Vandy reliever RHP Donye Evans retired the side around a two-out walk to Evan Russell, the best defensive inning Vanderbilt put together all game.
Camden Sewell got the ball to begin the seventh for the Vols, dealing a pair of strikeouts and getting a flyout to make for a quick 1-2-3 inning.
Tennessee shortstop Cortland Lawson then extended the Vols' lead in the bottom of the seventh, smoking a one-out solo bomb to left field for his 11th blast of the season. With Lawson's blast, seven Vols have 11 or more home runs this year.
Sewell took care of the first batter of the inning before being subbed out by junior LHP reliever Will Mabrey, who retired the next two batters to record back-to-back 1-2-3 innings for the Tennessee defense.
The Vols loaded the bases with a trio of walks against Vandy freshman RHP Greysen Carter in the top of the eighth, ultimately plating one after Luc Lipcius connected for an RBI groundout to give Tennessee a 10-1 lead.
Lipcius' RBI gave the Vols a chance to run-rule Vandy, as Christian Scott only needed to bring one run in to give the Vols a 10-run lead. But Scott struck out to keep the lead at nine.
With three more outs to get in the top of the ninth, the Vols brought in the Volunteer Fireman Ben Joyce to close things out on the mound. Joyce retired the 'Dores in order with two flyouts and a strikeout, with his fastball sitting comfortably at three digits.
The Vols advance in the winner's bracket of the SEC Tournament and will face the winner of Kentucky vs. LSU game sometime on Friday, more than likely.
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