South Carolina sweeps the Vols

After the Tennessee softball team faced a shutout by South Carolina last weekend, the Vols baseball team sought a chance for vengeance. However, they met the same fate as the Lady Vols. The Gamecocks swept the Vols by a combined score of 18-6 in the weekend series.

Errors plagued the Vols in game one on Thursday.

“I thought having four mistakes in the first inning that were pretty obvious to see cost us,” Tennessee Head Coach Tony Vitello said. “From there it’s hard to come back.”

On Thursday, the Vols lost by the score of 6-1 at Founders Park in Columbia, South Carolina. Freshman Garrett Crochet started for Tennessee on the bump, pitching four innings and allowing six runs on seven hits. South Carolina sounded on the scoreboard early, after ringing in three runs in the first inning.

The Volunteers first run of the game didn’t come until the eighth inning off a single from infielder Brandon Chinea. Gamecocks pitcher Adam Hill threw a no-hitter through five innings and notched four strikeouts in the win.

Game two resulted in a similar fashion for the orange-and-white, as they fell 6-2 on Friday. The Vols struggled to get their bats going again. They tallied seven hits on the day but didn’t bring in their first run until the sixth inning. Tennessee had runners in scoring position in the first and third inning but failed to capitalize.

Sophomore Garrett Stallings took the mound for the Volunteers and allowed eight hits and four runs in six innings of work. Sophomore outfielder Justin Ammons recorded each of Tennessee’s two runs on the evening. South Carolina once again found a solid foundation in pitching, as Cody Morris dealt six innings for five strikeouts and one earned run in the win.

“We didn’t really capture the momentum, I think that we captured the essence of what we’re trying to do which is play hard,” Vitello said after the loss on Friday. “That’s all we can ask from them, to show up and compete the way they did.”

The Volunteers looked to bounce back in game three, but the Gamecocks got the best of them once again on Saturday. In the 6-3 loss, Vols junior pitcher Will Neely allowed two runs on seven hits in his five innings on the mound.

Tennessee found all its runs in the fourth inning, as sophomore infielder Andre Lipcius and freshman designated hitter Evan Russell combined for three RBI’s.

In the seventh inning, Tennessee had the bases loaded with two outs to give the Vols a convincing lead but struck out to end the frame. Ammons shined as the one bright spot for Tennessee in the tough series against the Gamecocks, as he went 3-for-9 from the plate over the weekend and scored three runs. Ammons also reached base nine times and drew four walks.

The Volunteers’ four-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt. Tennessee will look to end its losing streak against Belmont on April 3. After their midweek game against the Bruins, the Vols will host the Florida Gators for a three-game weekend series in Knoxville. First pitch for the game against Belmont is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Written by Cole McCormick

Edited by Seth Raborn/Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

 

Barnes speaks to media in season-ending press conference

Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes held his first press conference in Knoxville since the Vols’ 63-62 upset loss to 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA Tournament last Saturday.

After notching Tennessee basketball’s first regular season SEC Championship in a decade and leading the Volunteers to their best record (26-9, 11-5 SEC) since 2010, Barnes still seeks areas of improvement.

“The word I used a lot was consistency this year… I think individual guys need to be more consistent,” Barnes said. “You really want to get back to fundamentals, conditioning I think is a big part of that.”

Barnes noted one key difference from this year’s NCAA Tournament than his previous 21 times in the Big Dance. He said sophomore center Kyle Alexander’s injury marked the first time he had a player injured in the tournament. However, Barnes did not shy away from complementing the Ramblers and their improbable Final Four run.

“I think they (Loyola-Chicago) have as good of a chance as anybody to win the National Championship,” Barnes said. “When you watch them play they’re a highly efficient offensive team and a very good defensive team.”

The aftermath did not turn out happy-go-lucky for No. 3 seed Tennessee after the Ramblers victory last Saturday according to Barnes, but his team was anxious to get back to work.

“They were devastated, there’s not much you can say” Barnes said. “Starting today they’re all back in the gym. They’re wanting to get back.”

Despite returning every player on the roster except for one, Barnes stated the lone senior on the team, James Daniels III, will be missed.

“He had an impact and we’ll miss what he gave us,” Barnes said. “I thought it was really good the pressure that he put on Jordan Bone and Lamonte Turner.”

Barnes did hint that the orange-and-white put high-priority on finding a guard to replace Daniel III. However, he noted that he would rather bring in a high school player than another graduate-transfer.

The hardware did not stop at SEC Coach of the Year for Barnes, as he will be a recipient of the 2018 Coach Wooden “Keys to Life” Award during the Final Four weekend. The award is given to basketball staff that models high moral character, integrity and faith.

“Well first of all I can tell you there are a lot of guys more deserving of the award than me,” Barnes said. “It’s an honor… He (Wooden) impacted this sport long after he quit coaching.”

Barnes ended his press conference with news that will elate much of the Vols faithful: Tennessee will renew its in-state rival with Memphis next season. Newly hired Tigers Head Coach Penny Hardaway confirmed the news on Monday. The two teams will play one game each in Memphis and Knoxville and finish up with a matchup in the Music City.

“Don’t hold me to this, but I think the way the contract sets up, I think we go there first, they come here,” Barnes said. “We’d like to make it a big day of basketball in Nashville… Some kind of jamboree or extravaganza.”

The Volunteers and Memphis have met 25 times in the past, as Tennessee leads the series 14-11. The last rivalry game ended in an 85-80 win for the Vols in 2013.

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Vols fall to No. 11 seed Loyola Chicago in second round

Head Coach Rick Barnes and the No. 3 seed Volunteers’ season ended with a 63-62 loss to 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago Saturday night. Tennessee failed to advance to the Sweet 16 despite an and-one from forward Grant Williams, which put the Vols up one point with 20 seconds remaining. Barnes is now 22-23 in NCAA Tournament games in his over 40 years as a head coach.

Ramblers guard Clayton Custer got a friendly roll on a tough jump shot with four seconds left to give Loyola-Chicago a 63-62 lead with four second remaining. Tennessee sophomore guard Jordan Bone put up on off-balance jumper at the buzzer but couldn’t get it to go.

“It’s always a tough way to lose a basketball game with the buzzer beaters,” Barnes said. “I’m proud of our guys, they kept fighting today and finding a way to stay in it.”

The early game looked good for the orange-and-white, as they shot off to a 15-6 run after nearly five minutes of play in the first half. Forward Admiral Schofield had 11 of the Vols 15 points in the run. However, the Ramblers responded with a 23-10 run of their own and went up 29-25 at the halfway point.

“They started making shots,” Schofield said.

Grant Williams added, “We were playing hard, but we really weren’t playing smart.”

At the half, the Volunteers stood at just 39 percent shooting from the field and made just 4-of-13 shots from beyond-the-arc. Meanwhile, Loyola-Chicago filled the bucket with nearly 50 percent shooting after 20 minutes of play. Tennessee made just four of its last 18 shots to end the first half.

The Volunteers fell behind 10 points with four minutes remaining in the contest but cut the deficit down to just two points after a 3-pointer from guard Lamonte Turner. Tennessee finished the monumental comeback with a clutch and-one from Williams to put the Vols up one point.

However, Custer and the Ramblers continued their Cinderella story with a game-winning jumper with 3.6 second remaining in the game. Custer and senior forward Aundre Jackson led Loyola-Chicago with a combined 26 points and six rebounds in the win. The Volunteers had five players with over 10 points in the loss, including a team-high 14 points from Schofield.

“We worked really hard and we brought some excitement around the basketball program again,” Schofield said. “It doesn’t define who we are… We still have some guys that are returning.”

Overall, the Ramblers hit 50 percent of their shots and outrebounded Tennessee by a 27-24 margin on Saturday. The Missouri Valley champions will advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1985, which is the last time they made the NCAA Tournament.

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Edited by Lexie Little

No. 7 Lady Vols shakes off late surge to beat No. 18 Stanford

No. 7 Tennessee defeated the No. 18 Stanford 83-71 on Thursday night. With the win, the Lady Vols break a five-game losing streak in Maples Pavilion.

“I just like the way we compete,” senior forward Jaime Nared said. “Everybody came in and did their part tonight.”

Tennessee is now 12-0 for the first time since 2005-2006, which is the same season when the Lady Vols last won in Palo Alto.

With the loss, the Cardinals fall to 6-6 on the season. Senior guard Brittany McPhee finished with 27 points and was the only Stanford player to finish with double-digit points on the night. Stanford is now 0-5 against ranked opponents this season.

For Tennessee, Nared led the team in scoring with 28 points. Fellow senior Mercedes Russell earned her 36th career double-double, finishing the game with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

The game started out slowly as both teams traded missed shots to open the first quarter. Stanford held an early lead, but a three-pointer by freshman Rennia Davis followed by a breakaway lay-up from fellow freshman point guard Evina Westbrook allowed Tennessee to take a 6-4 lead.

Westbrook would go on to finish the game with a career-high 17 points, breaking her previous record of 15 points in Tennessee’s win over Texas.

Since the early lead change in the opening quarter, the Lady Vols never allowed the Cardinals to take the lead in the game. They led by as much as 17 points in the fourth quarter.

Stanford would make a late surge and go on to cut Tennessee’s lead to only six points at 68-62 with 3:12 left in the game.

The Lady Vols had plenty of scoring opportunities to put the game away, but they were outrebounded 48-35 and allowed Stanford to keep the closing minutes interesting.

“When we rebound the basketball, we were good,” Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick said following the game. “But when they went it, and missed it, and got extra second chance points… that’s on us for not finishing the play with the rebound.”

Late, clutch free throw shooting from Tennessee allowed them to comfortably finish out the game and pull away with the 83-71 win. The visitors finished the game shooting 86% from the free throw line.

“This game’s huge,” Warlick said. “This was a great test for us.”

The Lady Vols will remain on the road as they head to Lexington on Dec. 31 to face Kentucky in their first SEC matchup of the season. The game will tip at 12 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

“I’m really excited with how we’ve done so far.” Nared said. “But at the end of the day it’s December still. We have so much basketball to go. We want to keep getting better.”

Edited by Ben McKee

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee athletics

Rocky Topics: Tennessee will finish higher than 13th in the SEC

Rocky Topics: 

As Tennessee basketball prepares for its third season under head coach Rick Barnes, the Vols were selected by members of the media to finish 13th in the SEC. After a successful second season on Rocky Top, will Barnes surpass expectations for a third-straight season? Ben McKee and Caleb Souders are here to discuss.

Souders: This is absolute disrespect to the basketball program and Rick Barnes. This is a team that returns four starters from last season, after only losing Robert Hubbs and Lew Evans due to graduation — and Shembari Phillips due to transfer. This is certainly a year in which Rick Barnes puts the excuses behind him and shows what he can do, as he has brought in a solid 2017 recruiting class — through both transfers and 2017 class commitments.

McKee: I was stunned when the SEC media picks came out late last week, and Tennessee was picked to finish second-to-last in the league. The fact that the Vols were picked to finish 13th points to a lack of respect for Barnes, and that the media is paying minimal attention to what the third-year head coach is building in Knoxville. Will the Vols win any form of championship in 2017-18? Probably not, but I would bet my mortgage that Tennessee finishes well above 13th.

As Caleb mentioned, Hubbs, Evans and Phillips have moved on, but those aren’t departures that will hamper this year’s team. Tennessee has the talent to make a statement in the league this year, and it all starts with the smash brothers – Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. The two combined to average 20.8 points-per-game last season while hauling in 10.3 rebounds.

Williams and Schofield aren’t the only dynamic duo returning, as the Vols return two very talented, but young, point guards. The system Barnes runs requires a point guard that can flat out get the job done, and be the leader of the team. Sophomore Jordan Bone and redshirt sophomore Lamonte Turner can be exactly that. As freshman last season, Bone and Turner showed flashes of greatness, but need to be more consistent. If the two can flourish this season, Tennessee will have the ability to beat anybody in the country.

Souders: There are no more excuses for Barnes after this season, especially after bringing in two experienced scoring guards in Chris Darrington and grad-transfer James Daniel III. Darrington averaged 20.7 points per game last season in JUCO, and Daniel III can straight up get to the rack. Daniel III had a game in 2016 against Coppin State in which he made 17 free throws.

McKee: I agree with Caleb, as I believe the additions of Darrington and Daniel III will be huge for this team. As young as this team still is, the two veterans will provide much needed experience.

However, the two biggest additions to the 2017-18 Tennessee basketball team are two guys who are already in the program. That being redshirt freshmen John Fulkerson and Jalen Johnson. At the start of last season, Fulkerson was the heart-and-soul of the team. The East Tennessee native isn’t extremely athletic or freakishly strong, he just has ‘it.’ Pairing Fulkerson with Williams and Schofield will provide nightmares for opposing coaches.

Johnson redshirted a year ago, as he looked to add on some muscle. While he wasn’t on the court last season, many around the program believed that the forward was the most athletic player on the team. The Vols are set at guard with Bone, Turner and Jordan Bowden, as well as at forward with Fulkerson, Schofield and Williams. But the Vols need help on the wing, and Johnson can provide just that. The North Carolina native will provide sparkling dunks, but if he can find a rhythm from three and improve as a defender, Johnson will be a dangerous weapon for Barnes.

Souders: Tennessee has needed a scoring combo-guard the past couple seasons, and not only will they receive scoring in Daniel III and Darrington, but they get experience and defense. These two have played a lot of games, so the stage won’t be too big for them.

Daniel III once recorded nine steals in a single game in ‘15. As a sophomore at Vincennes junior college, Darrington led his team to a 32-3 record. Look forward to Daniel III and Darrington both having huge seasons and leading the Vols this year. Moving to the most exciting player of the 2017 class, Yves Pons leads the way

McKee: Speaking of Pons, let’s take a minute to talk about the France native. As I mentioned earlier, Tennessee needs help out on the perimeter. Like Johnson, Pons can provide exactly that. The two’s playing style are very similar. They’ll both provide plenty of highlight-reel dunks, but defense and the ability to knock down shots remain a question mark.

Pons is an athletic freak who at 6-foot-5 brings the crowd to their feet. His lateral quickness and absurd wingspan allow him the potential to be a lockdown defender. When the season tips off, Pons will be the first-ever Tennessee men’s basketball player from France, and just the eighth ever international player.

The roster has several playmakers and with Barnes leading the way, the Vols should far exceed expectations. If I’ve learned one thing about Barnes over the course of his first two-years in Knoxville, it’s to not doubt the veteran head coach.

Photo By Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics

No. 11 Tennessee upset by Vanderbilt on the road

No. 11 Tennessee (13-2-1, 5-2-1 SEC) lost to Vanderbilt 2-1 on Thursday night at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex. The game marks Tennessee’s second loss of the season, the other being an earlier defeat on the road to South Carolina. In addition, the loss snaps a four-game win streak for the Lady Vols.

In the first half, Vanderbilt (10-5-1, 4-3-1 SEC) had an early scoring opportunity in the 13th minute when Rebecca Rossett’s shot narrowly missed. Before play resumed, junior Khadija Shaw was subbed out with an apparent knee injury that occurred in the run of play prior to Rossett’s shot attempt.

The Lady Vols would give up a penalty kick in the 16th minute when junior Mackenzie Gouner brought down an attacking Vandy player in the box after losing the ball. Stephanie Amack would bury the penalty kick and put Vanderbilt up 1-0.

Tennessee’s best chances in the first half came when junior Danielle Marcano produced three shots on goal within three minutes in the latter stages of the half. Entering the break, the score remained 1-0.

In the second half, Tennessee maintained much of the possession while Vanderbilt settled in comfortably on defense. Despite several attacking opportunities for the visitors, Vanderbilt was able to take full advantage of the limited chances they had. In the 76th minute, Paula Ellis sent in a header to extend Vandy’s lead to 2-0.

In the 78th minute, junior Rylie O’Keefe scored to cut Vanderbilt’s lead to 2-1. O’Keefe’s fourth goal of the season remained Tennessee’s only goal of the night, as the game finished 2-1.

Injuries played a significant role in the loss to Vanderbilt. The Lady Vols were without their team-leading goal scorer Shaw for most of the first half. Shaw would return in the 59th minute but was unable to get on the scoresheet. In the 84th minute, Gouner was hurt while attempting a slide tackle and would miss the remainder of the game. Prior to the game, Gouner started all 15 games in defense for Tennessee.

The Lady Vols will hope to bounce back as they return to Regal Soccer Stadium on Sunday. They are set to face No. 20 Florida and will look to maintain their unbeaten streak at home. The game will air at 1 p.m. ET on SEC Network+ via WatchESPN.

Edited by Ben McKee

Feature image courtesy of UT Sports