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OTH On Deck: Week Four

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Tennessee baseball has completed the nonconference slate and heads into SEC play 15-3. 

We’ve learned a lot during the nonconference slate and have a feel for where this team’s strengths lie, but some questions remain. 

Let’s dive into this week for Tennessee baseball, take a look at the Vols’ first SEC opponent Missouri and get a peak at some breaking news for the SEC scheduling format.

Pitching is Tennessee’s clear strength

Tennessee’s pitching will carry it this season. No matter what is going on with the bats, the Vols’ pitching will keep them in games. 

Tennessee leads the SEC in combined ERA among all pitchers. The Vols boasted a 2.17 ERA before playing Lipscomb. It likely is even better now after the shutout.

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As for the starters, going into the Lipscomb game, Tennessee’s starters had a 2.02 ERA which was second in the SEC. The reliever sat at a 2.36 ERA, also second. 

Tennessee’s three starters combined for 33 strikeouts in 18 innings against Morehead State. Friday started Chase Dollander struck out 11, Saturday starter Chase Burns struck out a career-high 13 and Drew Beam punched out nine. The trio has 102 strikeouts this season. 

For the baseball nerds who saw Chase Burns slider working on Saturday. The spin rate on his slider sits at 2,500-2,600, an absolutely insane number. 

Transfers shine in slugfest 

The Vols cranked 13 home runs over the three-game set with Morehead State. They added three more against Lipscomb on Tuesday.

Maui Ahuna hit his first home run over the weekend, and he quickly added to the total. Ahuna hit three home runs over the weekend with seven RBIs. He added his fourth home run and four more RBIs against Lipscomb on Tuesday.

Ahuna is hitting just below .300 and he’s getting more comfortable in the leadoff role.

Zane Denton hit for the cycle on Friday, just the fifth in Tennessee history. The Alabama transfer had a career-high six RBIs in the process. Denton is hitting .339 in the cleanup spot. 

Cincinnati transfer Griffin Merritt he three home runs over the doubleheader on Saturday. He’s hitting .333 with 17 RBIs going into SEC play. 

Buy stock in Kavares Tears

Redshirt freshman Kavares Tears hits the ball very hard. In an outfield where the third spot is up for grabs, and the DH role is still open, Tears is quickly establishing himself as a candidate. 

Tears is 9-for-18 at the plate with four doubles and one homer. But, he also has six strikeouts. It seems to be boom or bust with Tears, but the booms are very loud. 

Tears is also not as sound defensively as some others for that third outfield spot, so he may fit best in the DH role. Regardless, Tennessee skipper Tony Vitello called him a “knockout punch” and Tears punches hard. 

A Look at Missouri 

Missouri, like Tennessee, graduated a lot of talent. Unlike Tennessee, the Tigers return some talent. 

The Tigers’ two best weekend starters, Chander Murphy and Rorik Maltrud both have ERAs above three. It took a complete game from Murphy to defeat the New Jersey Institute of Technology. A good effort from Maltrud and the pen led Missouri of NJIT on Sunday. 

Missouri dropped a game to NJIT, obviously a promising sign for an incoming Tennessee. 

Hank Zeisler, Trevor Austin and Luke Mann lead Missouri’s offense. Zeisler is hitting .279 with a team-high five home runs. Austin has three home runs while hitting .373. Mann also has a team-high five home runs while swinging .379.

Ty Wilmsmeyer also stands out, hitting .373 while sitting at 9-for-11 on stolen base attempts. 

Tennessee should come out of Columbia with a series victory. The toughest battle may be with the weather, not the Tigers. Sub-40-degree temperatures await the Vols in Missouri. 

Some SEC scheduling news 

We received some scheduling news for baseball regarding expansion from the SEC.

The SEC has decided that once Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC, they will go to two permanent series and eight rotating series with no divisions. 

Tennessee seems like a lock to have Vanderbilt permanently, but who else? Kentucky for proximity? Florida for rivalry? The eight rotating opponents with no divisions will make SEC Baseball very interesting. The league may become even more fun than it currently is.

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