HOUSTON, Texas – In the Vols’ opening game of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Classic at Minute Maid Park, they shot themselves in the foot too many times to win against a strong opponent. This led to No. 17 Tennessee (8-1) suffering its first loss to No. 1 Texas (10-0) on Friday.
Texas starting pitcher Pete Hansen allowed base runners throughout the night, but Tennessee was unable to cash them in. The culprit was the Vols’ mistakes on the basepaths costing them chances to score.
Tennessee had opportunities to claim leads early on. In the first inning, Jordan Beck was thrown out at home trying to score after a wild throw. In the third, Evan Russell was in scoring position, but tried advancing to third base on a comebacker to the pitcher. Drew Gilbert also got caught stealing to end the Vols’ fourth inning.
“Part of it was them executing better than we did and us not handling a couple situations,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said following the loss.
Runs are already hard enough to come by against a top-ranked opponent, especially with Hansen on the mound. The sophomore did not have his best stuff on Friday, however, he found a way to get outs despite leaving several pitches over the plate. The crafty lefty tossed six innings, striking out five while allowing five hits and one earned run.
“With how good that kid is and what his numbers have looked like the last two years, we did a respectable job,” said Vitello. “It wasn’t good enough, so you don’t want to be satisfied or too complimentary of that, but I have to say our guys stood in there pretty well against one of the best pitchers in the country. We just needed to be better.”
It was an old fashioned pitcher’s duel for the first five innings of the game. Chase Burns had Texas hitters clueless while he was in the game. He threw five innings, only allowing two hits, one walk and one earned run while striking out a career-high 10 batters.
“He was outstanding,” Vitello said of Burns’ performance. “Without sounding like it’s a boring thing or a bad thing, he’s just been the same guy. That’s who he’s been in scrimmages and also in the first two weekends.”
Vitello elected to pull Burns after five innings with the game tied 1-1. He was at 81 pitches and Texas was beginning to see his pitches a little better.
The game began to unravel for Tennessee when the bullpen took over. Senior Camden Sewell was greeted rudely with back-to-back doubles that gave Texas the lead. He had a chance to limit Texas to just that but an error by second baseman Jorel Ortega on what could have been an inning-ending double play allowed two more runs to score.
That was all Texas needed.
The Longhorns were able to curb their emotion better than the Vols on Friday. Tennessee looked amped up and were playing the game too fast. That is understandable while playing in a big-league ballpark in front of over 16,000 people, but they will need to find a way to limit that as the weekend progresses.
“These guys have been looking forward to this tournament for a while and there’s a lot of emotion in the dugout and pregame,” Vitello said. “The guys wanted to start the weekend off well, and they didn’t. I think we learned a lot of valuable lessons as it relates to handling emotions and ups and downs.”
Tennessee will be in action next when they play Baylor at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 4 p.m. EST.