After winning back-to-back games comfortably on the road over the weekend, the Vols looked like they had smooth sailing back home. No. 10 Tennessee (11-1) defeated James Madison University (8-5) 9-8 in 10 innings on Wednesday.
Tennessee was up 7-1 after five innings before giving up three runs in both the sixth and seventh innings. The Dukes hit three home runs in those two innings, including two by right fielder Carson Bell. Bell had three hits and five RBI in the contest.
The first game of a two-game set with James Madison began on Tuesday but heavy rainfall suspended the game in the middle of the eighth inning until the next day. It was the second time this season a game was suspended due to inclement weather (Feb. 22 against Tennessee Tech).
When the game resumed Wednesday, the Vols quickly took an 8-7 lead in the bottom of the eighth courtesy of a bases loaded hit by pitch of Logan Steenstra. James Madison left fielder Fenwick Trimble then homered off Redmond Walsh on the first pitch of the ninth to tie the game. However, Jorel Ortega ended the Dukes’ hopes of an upset with a walkoff single in the 10th inning that scored Jared Dickey.
In the innings James Madison mounted its comeback on Tuesday, the Vols looked like they got satisfied and let their foot off the gas. Tennessee’s pitching staff gave up three walks and three home runs in the sixth and seventh innings combined. That is an aberration from coach Tony Vitello’s brand of baseball.
“That first game was very frustrating. Our guys played with some heart and played with talent but we didn’t play with our heads and a few other things were missing too,” Vitello said. “We made so many defensive mistakes and yet got away with it that first game.”
The rain may have bailed the Vols out of a loss on Tuesday. It was a definitive tale of two days for Tennessee who looked much sharper on Wednesday. James Madison pushed the game to extra innings but Tennessee’s first walk-off victory of the year sealed the first game.
“(Tuesday) we wanted to take all of them out (of the lineup). Yesterday wasn’t good,” Vitello said. “It’s good they pushed us…Our guys played with energy. They were in it in BP yesterday and physically had the bounce to them. (Their minds) looked slow to me.”
The second game, which took place doubleheader style on Wednesday, was on par with Tennessee baseball so far this year. The Vols won it 10-2. The offense tied a program record with seven home runs hit in the game. Six of them were solo shots and seven different players recorded an RBI.
Leading the charge at the top of the order for the Vols has been Jared Dickey. Dickey has made himself comfortable hitting leadoff over the last week. He hit two homers in the second game Wednesday and racked up five hits combined in the two games. The redshirt freshman has been penciled in as a designated hitter, catcher and corner outfielder defensively and is batting .529 in 34 at-bats.
“It’s pretty awesome to see someone that’s worked so hard and everyone likes him in the locker room,” senior Evan Russell said of Dickey. “To see him having the success that he’s having, I can’t sit here and say that I expected it when he first got on campus but to see him prove me wrong, it’s pretty cool.”
Tennessee bounced back after a rough go on Tuesday. The Vols have four games to play before the SEC schedule opens up and they are still trying to iron out some things and find their true identity.
“There’s gonna be times where you’re gonna have to overcome being a little tired, not eating the right way or going to class when it’s not ideal for you, and you still gotta be ready to hook it up. I don’t know that we were able to do that at the standard that we were looking for (on Tuesday),” Vitello said. “(Wednesday) was a winning day for the Vols.”
No. 10 Tennessee (12-1) opens up a three-game series with Rhode Island (0-10) at Lindsey Nelson Stadium with a doubleheader starting at 2 p.m. Friday.