GAINESVILLE, Fla.—Blade Tidwell waited patiently this season to start an SEC game again. The sophomore hurler took advantage of the opportunity in No. 1 Tennessee’s (36-3, 16-1 SEC) 3-0 victory against Florida (23-16, 6-11 SEC) at Condron Family Ballpark on Saturday.
Tidwell was a vital part of Tennessee’s pitching staff as a freshman in 2021. However, due to delayed action in 2022 from a shoulder injury paired with strong starting pitching from the Vols’ three incumbent weekend starters, he had not found the chance to start on the weekend yet.
Chase Dollander has started every Saturday game for Tennessee this season. On April 16 against Alabama, he was hit in his throwing elbow by a comebacker and had to exit the game. That sidelined him for his next scheduled start against Florida, which opened the door for Tidwell.
It is not how Tidwell envisioned making his way back into the weekend rotation, but he made the most of it. He threw 4.2 scoreless innings with two hits, five strikeouts and just one walk. Tennessee coaches are gradually stretching Tidwell out to full strength, as he threw just 72 pitches.
“It’s huge, just to see Blade healthy,” coach Josh Elander said. “He’s a true ace. To have that guy healthy, back in the mix, it definitely makes us all feel better.”
Reliever Camden Sewell was just as impressive as Tidwell out of the bullpen. He threw 4.1 no-hit innings with one walk and three strikeouts. His outing was capped off by striking out the side against the heart of Florida’s lineup in the ninth inning.
“It was fun for sure. I can’t thank the defense enough behind me. They made some plays that I was like, ‘wow’,” Sewell said. “And that feeling in the ninth inning was pretty special.”
The Vols’ offense was fueled by the home run ball once again. First baseman Luc Lipcius opened the scoring in the game with a solo homer in the fifth inning. Center fielder Drew Gilbert followed it up with a two-run shot in the sixth that gave Tennessee all the runs it would need.
Tennessee’s 16-1 record in SEC play is tied for the best clip in conference history. Tennessee also started 16-1 in 1951. The Vols have a chance to break that record on Sunday.
Tennessee will go for the sweep on Sunday. It would be the Vols’ eighth sweep of the year, which is already the most in the Tony Vitello era. They had five series sweeps in 2021.
Vitello will return to Tennessee’s dugout for the first time since April 16 on Sunday. Elander has acted as head coach during Vitello’s four-game suspension.
“That’ll be a huge jolt of energy,” Elander said. “I know it’s a little bit of a quick turnaround, but I’m excited to see tomorrow because I know the guys are gonna be amped.”
Game three between Tennessee and Florida is on Sunday at 12:00 p.m. EST.