May 21, 2024

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

Tennessee dropped its opening series to start the season, but found a way to salvage game three as Tony Vitello picked up his first career win.

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

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