The Vols came out firing on all cylinders to begin SEC play. No. 7 Tennessee (17-1, 1-0 SEC) defeated South Carolina (10-7, 0-1 SEC) 8-3 on Friday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. It was the first game of a three-game set over the weekend.
Chase Burns was on fire in his fifth start of the season. The freshman right-hander struck out nine and allowed two hits with one earned run en route to his fourth win. His 6.2 innings pitched is his longest outing of the season, and his ERA sits at 0.81.
Burns was starting many hitters off with fastballs to get them to two strikes. However, it was his slider that had Gamecock hitters looking foolish. In the later innings he pitched, Burns mixed in a changeup as well.
“I know in the SEC, they’re good hitting teams, and they can hit fastballs,” Burns said. “After that Texas outing, I thought (the slider) was probably my best pitch, so I just keep throwing it.”
Coach Tony Vitello has said all season that although Burns is a freshman by age, he does not act like it or perform like it during games. He has started every Friday game for Tennessee so far this year. As the year progresses, Burns is evolving from start to start.
“If you were to dissect each (of Burns’ starts), he’s been good at different things each time out. Tonight, he got stronger as he went,” Vitello said. “It’s exciting. The guys have played well behind him and we’ve won some games, but there’s a lot of untapped deal going on there for his first year in the league. I think he’s gonna get better.”
Tennessee’s offense kept its power surge going on Friday. Seven of the Vols’ eight runs came via the home run ball. They hit four homers in total, bumping their team total to 50 on the year, which leads the nation by a wide margin (Mercer had 38 entering Friday).
The Vols saw production throughout the entire lineup. Junior shortstop Cortland Lawson was 2-for-3, including a two-run shot in the second inning that put Tennessee in control of the game. Lawson was penciled in as the ninth hitter in the lineup.
“That’s one of our strong suits. We can hit throughout the lineup. Power, contact, whatever, we can make it really tough on opposing pitchers,” Lawson said.
Depth of the lineup is important over the course of the full season. Some hitters will be hot at different times, so the Vols feel that the offense will not suffer much when that happens.
“It’s a good thing in the lineup to have nine guys that are dangerous. It’s almost impossible to go through a season where you’re relying on one guy the whole time,” Vitello said. “There’s some cycles that go back and forth.”
On Saturday, Tennessee’s offense will have its hands full with South Carolina ace Will Sanders. Sanders leads the Gamecocks pitching staff in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts. He threw six innings last weekend and got a win against then-No.1 Texas.
“He’s supposed to be their guy. We know we’re gonna have to battle,” Lawson said. “Tonight was a good one, but we’re gonna get some rest and move onto the next task because the job’s not finished.”
Game two between Tennessee and South Carolina is at 12 p.m. Saturday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.