The depth of the bullpen and late game offensive heroics saved the day for the Vols. No. 1 Tennessee (29-1, 10-0 SEC) defeated Missouri (18-9, 3-7 SEC) 8-3 on Friday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. It was the first of a three-game set.
The Vols found themselves at a deficit when Missouri third baseman Luke Mann hit a first inning two-run homer. It was the first time in SEC play that Tennessee trailed in a game.
Vols’ freshman starting pitcher Chase Burns had an off night for the first time this season. He threw 2.2 innings and allowed three hits and two runs. The biggest issue, however, was the walks. He granted a free pass to four Tigers hitters. Before Friday’s start, he allowed three walks combined over his three SEC starts.
“He said he felt great in the bullpen (before the game),” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said about Burns. “If that ends up being his worst night—there’s a decent chance it was as a pitcher—that’s a pretty good worst night. You could tell (their hitters) were fired up to face him.”
Burns had been lights out this season up to that point. He still notched five strikeouts, which helped limit the damage Missouri did in the early innings.
Tennessee’s bullpen kept the team’s head above water the rest of the night. After Burns’ early exit, Vitello used seven different arms out of the bullpen. They combined for 6.1 innings pitched with 11 strikeouts and one earned run.
“We never know how the starter’s gonna do,” junior reliever Will Mabrey said. “In that situation, you’ve got adrenaline going and you’re out there ready to compete. You never know when you’re gonna be called so we’re always ready to go.”
Despite the bullpen’s work, Tennessee still trailed going into the seventh inning. Usually, it is the offense giving the bullpen a big lead. On Friday, the bullpen was faced with the opposite.
“Having some guys in some situations individually that they hadn’t been in yet, and then our team being in some situations that we haven’t been in recently, was definitely a positive to take away,” Vitello said.
Missouri had plenty of chances to pull away, but never took advantage. The Tigers’ offense left 13 base runners on. It came back to bite them when Tennessee’s offense woke up.
The Tigers led 3-2 in the seventh until Christian Scott, Jorel Ortega and Cortland Lawson strung together consecutive hits to give Tennessee a 4-3 lead. In the eighth inning, a three-run homer from Evan Russell sealed the comeback win.
“We love being the villains, we love our back against the wall. We come together in that time,” Scott said.
Scott was the spark plug for the offense on Friday, going 3-for-4 with a double. He raised his average to .311 and has played his part in a competitive battle for the starting left field spot in the lineup.
“Christian Scott has gotten better in a ton of different areas since he’s been here,” Vitello said. “He’s a joy to be around, so I like when he gets to get out there in the lineup.”
The Vols’ 10 consecutive wins to open SEC play is the longest streak since Florida won 10 straight in 1994. They extended their overall winning streak to 21.
Game two between Missouri and Tennessee is Saturday at 7 p.m. at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.