Tennessee baseball drops series finale to UNC-Greensboro

Tony Vitello’s young Tennessee baseball team couldn’t complete its first sweep of the season on Sunday afternoon, as the Vols (4-3) fell to UNC-Greensboro, 3-2.

Despite the loss, the Vols were still able to pick up their first series win under Vitello this weekend thanks to victories over the Spartans (4-3) on Friday and Saturday.

“You had two evenly matched teams,” Vitello said following the loss. “It pains me to say it because I want to be better than our opponents, but it’s a well-coached team. They have different strengths than we do. Their defense in my opinion is what kept them in the game and early in the series.”

With the bats cold for both teams on a dreary Sunday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, junior Will Neely turned in an impressive performance against the Spartans. A week following his first outing of the season in which he allowed five runs against Maryland, the Knoxville native only allowed one run in five innings of work.

The lone run Neely allowed came in the top of the first inning on an Andrew Moritz sac fly that allowed Austin Embler to score who reached on a lead-off double. Neely settled in after the run scored, striking out four in his second appearance of the year.

“The game slowed down for him,” Vitello said of Neely’s performance. “He’s a guy that’s got experience for us and he will continue to log innings for us.”

Freshman Garrett Crochet relieved Neely to start the sixth. Despite allowing two home runs that proved to be the difference in the game, Crochet turned in another impressive performance. The southpaw struck out three in four innings of work but picked up his first loss of the season.

In the top of the third inning, Tennessee shortstop Andre Lipcius lined out to left, driving in Zach Daniels to tie the game at 1-1.

Neither team was able to break the tie in the fourth or the fifth. That is until UNCG left fielder Dillon Stewart took over the game. In the top of the sixth, Stewart hit a home run to right to give the Spartans a 2-1 lead.

In his next at-bat, Stewart extended the Spartans lead to 3-1 on a solo homer to center field. The redshirt-senior finished 2-for-4 on the day with a pair of homers and RBIs.

“It’s about the pitches we are making,” Vitello said when asked about giving up multiple home runs to Stewart. “One of the at bats today was 10 pitches and the more a guy sees off you, the better he’s going to hit you. The really strong players will make you pay if you make bad pitches.”

Daniels was the lone bright spot for a Vols offense that was 0-for-10 at the plate with runners in scoring position on Sunday. The freshman finished the day 2-for-4 with a solo home run in the ninth that cut the Spartans the lead to 3-2.

After starting the season 0-for-11, Daniels is now batting .357 with a team-high three home runs.

Tennessee is back in action on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon for a pair of midweek games. The Vols will face Middle Tennessee State on Tuesday before turning around and facing Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Wednesday. Both games are slated to begin at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Davis and Russell shine on Senior Day, take down No. 7 South Carolina

On a day where a trio of Lady Vols were celebrated, freshman Rennia Davis shined the brightest.

Following a rough first half on the offensive end of the floor, Davis sparked No. 15 Tennessee to a 22-4 run to begin the second half on its way to a 65-46 upset win over No. 7 South Carolina.

“Rennia (Davis) had a great game,” Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick said following the game. “She is just so solid right now. She does things to get her easy looks. She gets position. She had 10 rebounds and five on the offense boards which allowed her to score.”

The Florida native chipped in nine points in the third quarter alone to spark her team on the offensive and defensive end of the floor. Davis drilled a deep three-pointer from the corner as time expired to cap an explosive third quarter from the Lady Vols (23-6, 11-5 SEC) in which they out-scored South Carolina 29-9.

“We didn’t even run the play right,” Davis said after the big win. “I was just happy the shot went in, really. I just think it was a spark for us along with the defense. I think we started hitting shots in the third quarter. Obviously, that was a big shot for us.”

Davis would go on to finish with 18 points and 10 rebounds, recording her eighth double-double of the season. She now sits sixth on the list for most double-doubles recorded by a Lady Vol freshman.

Along with Davis’ nine first half points, senior Mercedes Russell helped carry Tennessee in opening half to keep the Gamecocks (23-6, 12-4 SEC) within reach.

With her mom in Knoxville for the first time to watch her play, Russell scored eight points on 3-of-6 shooting from the floor in the first half on her way to her 14th double-double of the season. Russell, a native of Oregon, finished with 16 points and 12 boards on the afternoon.

“It was awesome,” Russell said of her mother being in the stands. “Obviously, a lot of emotion just being the last home game as a senior in the SEC. Hopefully we get to host in the NCAA (tournament). She was excited, obviously very emotional like I said, but really happy.”

Defense wasn’t the problem in the first for the Lady Vols, as they were able to hold South Carolina to just a 26-21 halftime lead despite shooting 27 percent and turning the basketball over 10 times.

Strong defense play continued over into the second half, which led to good looks on the offensive end that allowed Tennessee to shoot 65 percent in the third quarter.

“We made some adjustments and attacked the basket; that’s what we did, and our defense got going,” Warlick said. “Our players love to press. I don’t have to beg them to press.”

If you look at the stat line, Jaime Nared – the other piece to the dynamic senior duo with Russell – didn’t have greatest of games. But according to Warlick, Nared’s impact was felt far beyond the stat sheet.

“Her (Nared) presence on the press, it’s just awesome,” Warlick said of Nared. “That got the momentum to go our way, just by her presence on the ball.”

Nared’s defensive presence allowed Tennessee to start the second half on a 14-0 run that ultimately grew into a 22-4 run, thanks to five South Carolina third quarter turnovers.

“Live ball turnovers and rebounding,” Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley said when asked if turnovers were the biggest issue for South Carolina in the third quarter. “They just out-hustled us.”

South Carolina was without All-American and two-time SEC Player of the Year, A’ja Wilson, who missed Sunday afternoon’s game due to vertigo. It was the second straight game against Tennessee in which Wilson did not play due to injury. Wilson missed the Jan. 14 game in Columbia against the Lady Vols due to injury, a game in which Tennessee won 86-70.

As for now, the Gamecocks are in wait-and-see mode as to if Wilson will play in the SEC Tournament.

“I’ll be on bended knees, hoping that she will be back Friday,” Staley said when asked about when Wilson is expected to be back. “I don’t know. I think, first and foremost, is her health and making sure that she is healthy. We are going to take it day-by-day.”

South Carolina kicks off its SEC Tournament run Friday evening, in what could be its third game against the Lady Vols this season. Tennessee who is a No. 7 seed in the tournament, will face ten-seed Auburn on Thursday night at 7 p.m. ET. The winner would face the Gamecocks the next day.

“I hope we get to play them (South Carolina),” Warlick said when asked on the possibility of playing the Gamecocks in the SEC Tournament. “Auburn is who we are looking at (first). We’ve, at time, struggled with Auburn.

“They (Auburn) press. We press too, so it could be an up-and-down, fun game to watch, or it could be two teams struggling to get it past half court.”

Davis, who will be playing in the tournament for the first time, is excited to prove not only herself, but her team’s worth with the NCAA Tournament right around the corner.

“When we’re getting defensive stops, and we’re running in transition, we’re one of the better teams in the SEC,” Davis said. “When we sag off and play casual on defense, it’s not as good for us. Going into the tournament, I think for us, we just gotta stay defensive minded as a team.”

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Tony Vitello picks up first win as Tennessee baseball salvages opening weekend

Despite a rough start to the weekend, Tennessee salvaged the opening series with a 13-6 thumping of Maryland (2-1) on Sunday afternoon.

Tennessee (1-2) kicked off the Tony Vitello era with a 4-0 loss on Friday night to the Terrapins following a three-hour rain delay.

The poor weather continued on Saturday, pushing game two of the three-game series back to Sunday.

Frustration surrounding opening weekend continued into Sunday, as the Vols bullpen surrendered a two-run lead in the eighth inning to allow Maryland to pick up a 10-4 win and clinch the series.

Tennessee didn’t hang its head though, exploding for 13 runs in game two of Sunday’s double-header to salvage the series and pick up a 13-6 win – Tony Vitello’s first as head coach.

“I think they just kind of came out of their shells,” Vitello said on what changed offensively going into the last game. “I’ll take the effort we had in game three.”

Adversity, the theme of the weekend for the Vols, did continue in the series finale. Maryland jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a solo home run from Marty Costes and a two-run shot from preseason All-American Nick Dunn.

“I think they showed some resiliency there,” Vitello said of his team’s ability to face adversity. “I don’t think there was any quit to them.”

The Terrapins lead wouldn’t hold for long, as Tennessee bounced back with five runs of its own in the bottom of the first. In the inning, Tennessee batted through the lineup with six of its top seven batters picking up a hit. Benito Santiago capped the inning with a two-run double to give the Vols a 5-2 lead.

Vols second baseman Jay Charleston and right fielder Justin Ammons were both hit by pitches to start the second inning. Pete Derkay was then walked to load the bases, setting up Andre Lipcius to hit his first career grand slam and extend Tennessee’s lead to 9-3. Following Nico Mascia’s first career hit and RBI, Tennessee led 10-2 at the end of two innings.

“It felt good to finally get the bats alive,” A. Lipcius said following the game. “The whole fall and all spring we’ve been hitting the ball really well, and the first two games didn’t show it at all. It felt good to finally get them started.”

The Vols would tack just three more runs on, hitting their way to the first win of the season. Tennessee’s lead was too much to overcome, as Maryland only tacked on three more runs after its big first inning.

Will Neely received the start for the Vols in game two. On his way to picking up his first win of the season, Neely allowed four runs on six hits. After Andrew Schultz pitched the sixth inning, Donovan Benoit entered in relief and pitch three scoreless innings to pick up the save.

In game one of Sunday’s doubleheader, things looked good for Tennessee early on.

Jay Charleston led off with a home run and sophomore Garrett Stallings pitched five scoreless innings. The right-hander was rolling until he had to exit the game in the top of the sixth inning after taking a line drive to a finger on his throwing arm.

“He’s a high-character guy and he brings that character to the mound,” Vitello said of Stallings. “He throws every pitch with conviction.

“Now as far as Garrett’s finger goes, it’s quite swollen. He would have loved to have stayed out there, but it wasn’t going to work today. But I expect him to pitch next weekend according to what our trainer has to say.”

After Stallings’ early exit, things went downhill for the Vols.

Tennessee led 4-2 entering the eighth, but the Vols bullpen fell apart, giving up nine of the ten Maryland runs. Six different relievers saw action, but only two didn’t allow a run.

“There’s a lot of guys who can pitch for us,” Vitello said of his bullpen. “We’re separating and subtracting, and guys are moving up and down.”

Tennessee will now turn its attention to Lipscomb for its first midweek game of the year. First pitch is set for 3:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday afternoon.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Maryland spoils Tony Vitello’s coaching debut

Maryland (1-0) spoiled the start to the Tony Vitello era Friday night in Knoxville, defeating Tennessee 2-0.

A gloomy afternoon in Knoxville dampened the opening day mood, pushing first-pitch back from 3:30 p.m. to 6:05 p.m. Tennessee’s (0-1) bats also proved gloomy, collecting only six hits in the season-opener.

“You’re not going to get anything done when you’re timid,” Vitello said following the game. “We had guys who were flat out nervous.”

While the bats never got going, right-hander Zach Linginfelter took the mound for the Vols and managed to keep the game within reach.

Linginfelter put together scoreless innings in the first, second and third, but ran into trouble in the fourth.

“What we saw out of him that we didn’t see last year was the ability to mix speeds, pitch himself out of jams, and be a good defender on the mound,” Vitello said of Linginfelter. “He showed an arsenal that can give you an SEC Friday night win.”

Maryland second baseman Nick Dunn, a preseason All-American, smacked a solo shot to right to put the Terrapins on the scoreboard. Taylor Wright then hit a single to center before stealing second. With Wright on second, Will Watson lined an RBI single through the left side of the infield to extend the lead to 2-0.

Linginfelter got out of the jam and concluded his first outing of the season. The Sevier County native finished having allowed six hits, two earned runs and three walks while striking out six.

Freshman Chase Wallace entered in relief to make his impressive Big Orange debut. Wallace worked two scoreless innings to keep the Maryland lead at 2-0.

Fellow freshman Garrett Crochet also made his debut. The Mississippi native impressed in three innings of work but allowed Dunn to hit his second home run of the game to extend the Terrapins lead to 3-0 in the top of the eighth.

In the ninth, Maryland extended its lead to 4-0 on an RBI double from Marty Costes.

Tennessee could never string together a run of hits, hitting just 2-for-13 with runners on base.

The Vols threatened in the eighth after Jay Charleston reached based to start the inning on a hit by pitch. Andre Lipcius also reached on a walk, but with runners on first and third, Benito Santiago struck out to end the inning.

Wyatt Stapp shone as the lone bright spot on offense, as the Texas native continued the theme of freshmen contributing in their college debut. Stapp, the Vols new starting third baseman, was 2-for-4 on the evening.

“What I’ve always done is just try to see the ball, hit the ball,” Stapp said after the game. “That’s just kind of my mentality, so I just go with that every game.”

Tennessee and Maryland will square off in game two of the three-game series tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. ET. Sophomore right-hander Garrett Stallings will be on the bump for the Vols.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Alabama upsets No. 11 Lady Vols for first Knoxville win

Alabama (16-10, 6-7 SEC) overcame a dominant Lady Vols run midway through the second half on Thursday night to upset No. 11 Tennessee 72-63 for its first ever win in Knoxville.

Tennessee (21-5, 9-4 SEC) trailed Alabama 33-26 just a few minutes into the second half. After a 15-0 run over the span of three minutes, the Lady Vols took a 41-33 lead. Tennessee built the run around a tremendous defensive effort. Alabama turned it over five times in the first half, but Tennessee’s active hands and full-court press forced the Crimson Tide into five turnovers during the Lady Vol run.

Then, the game flipped on its head. Alabama guard Hannah Cook drained a three to put a knife in the Tennessee run and the Crimson Tide rolled back within five.

The Lady Vols maintained a five-point lead throughout the third quarter, taking a 49-44 lead into the final frame after outscoring Alabama 25-15 in the third.

After the Crimson Tide didn’t score in the final 2:31 of third quarter play, Alabama got to work right away in the fourth quarter. Sparked by a Jordan Lewis three, the Crimson Tide went on a 14-0 run to take a 58-49 lead.

After exploding for 25 in the third, Tennessee scored just one point over the first seven minutes of the final quarter. The Lady Vols weren’t able to respond to the Crimson Tide run, scoring just 14 fourth quarter points.

In what proved to be a bittersweet moment, Lady Vols senior center Mercedes Russell scored her 1,500th career point with 6:29 remaining in the second quarter. The basket extended placed Russell in elite company.

With the bucket, Russell is the sixth Lady Vol ever to score 1,500 points and grab 1,000 rebounds. The senior from Oregon joins Chamique Holdsclaw, Sheila Frost, Glory Johnson, Bashaara Graves and Tamika Catchings as the only Lady Vols to reach the milestone.

Alabama outscored Tennessee 21-9 in the second frame. Following a poor offensive outing by both teams in the first half, Alabama closed the half on a 12-0 run to take a 29-24 lead into the break.

The Lady Vols shot just 30 percent in the opening half and didn’t score over the final 4:34 of play.

Jaime Nared led Tennessee with 22 points and seven rebounds on 9-of-18 shooting. Freshman Rennia Davis chipped in a double-double, scoring 18 points and hauling in 10 rebounds. Russell also finished with a double-double, grabbing 10 points and 10 rebounds.

For Alabama, Lewis finished with 19 points to lead the way. Cook finished with 10 points while Ashley Williams added 16 and 10 rebounds.

After back-to-back home games, Tennessee now hits the road for back-to-back road games. The Lady Vols will be in Columbia, Missouri on Sunday afternoon to take on No. 13 Missouri. Tip is set for 2 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Turner buries No. 24 Kentucky to sweep Cats for first time since 1999

Lamonte Turner etched his name in Tennessee basketball history books Tuesday night.

Trailing 58-56 with 28 seconds remaining and 10 seconds left on the shot clock, Turner drilled a deep three to give Tennessee a 59-58 lead.

“I had confidence,” Turner said to the Vol Network following the game. “When it left my hand, I was pretty sure it was going in.”

“He’s a competitor,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said of Turner. “He’s not afraid to take the shot.”

Following Turner’s clutch three, Jordan Bowden forced a turnover and threw it ahead to Admiral Schofield who threw down a vicious dunk. The dunk gave Tennessee a 61-58 lead with four seconds remaining and put the dagger in Kentucky.

“As a group, our guys look at each other and they believe in each other,” Barnes said. “We just kept talking, let’s stay with it defensively and rebound the ball, and we’ll find something on the other end.”

As a result, No. 15 Tennessee (18-5, 8-3 SEC) picked up its first win in Rupp Arena since 2006 and sweeps the season-series with No. 24 Kentucky (17-7, 6-5 SEC) for the first time since 1998-99.

“It’s very important,” Turner said when asked about sweeping Kentucky. “It’s a great feeling. When I get back home, I think I’ll realize how big of a win it really is.”

The matchup wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the Vols on Tuesday night. For the first time in quite some time, the Vols offense didn’t show up ready to play.

The one person who did come ready to play though was Turner. The redshirt-sophomore out of Huntsville, Alabama carried Tennessee through an ugly first half. Turner led Tennessee with 16 points on the night, 11 of which came in the first half.

In the opening frame, Turner’s teammates were just 6-of-20 from the field and 0-of-7 from the three-point line while Turner was 4-of-6 from the floor and 3-of-4 from beyond-the-arc.

Despite the offensive struggles in the first half, Tennessee built a 27-26 halftime lead thanks to its play on the defensive end. In the first ten minutes of the half, Kentucky shot just 1-of-9 from the field and turned it over five times. The Cats didn’t score their first field goal until 14 and a half minutes into the game.

The loss of Kyle Alexander played a big role in the Vols’ first half struggles. With 12:25 remaining in the half, Alexander picked up his second foul and was forced to sit on the bench for the remainder of the half. In just six minutes, the junior had scored four points, hauled in two rebounds, blocked two shots and picked up a steal.

Bowden stepped up in the second half while his teammates struggled, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the final 20 minutes.

The affair flipped back-and-forth in the second half, as neither team led by more than three points until Grant Williams knocked down a pair of free throws to take a 50-46 lead.

The Cats would then go on a 7-0 run capped by a Kevin Knox and-one to take a 53-50 lead. Following a pair of Bowden free throws, Tennessee cut the lead to one.

After Kentucky took a 58-56 lead, Alexander forced a game-changing Kentucky turnover. Barnes then called a timeout that set up the Turner three to take the lead–a lead that the Vols wouldn’t give up on their way to just their fifth all-time win in Rupp Arena.

Bowden would go on to finish with 13 points and eight rebounds on 4-of-8 shooting. Schofield finished with 12 points and six rebounds, while Grant Williams scored 10 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the free throw line.

Tennessee has little time to soak in the victory. The Vols will head to Tuscaloosa Saturday to take on a talented but young Alabama team at 6 p.m. ET.

“This is the best basketball league in the country, and I don’t know why people don’t want to own up to that,” Barnes said as his team gears up for another tough challenge. “If it keeps going like it is right now, this league should have nine teams in the NCAA Tournament. It’s as competitive as any league I’ve coached in.”

“It’s all Alabama now,” Turner said.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics