Tennessee Baseball Preview: No. 20 Vols Begin Conference Play at South Carolina

UT vs. South Carolina / Credit: UT Athletics

On Wednesday, March 11, the Southeastern Conference and Commissioner Greg Sankey announced that all SEC Championships, as well as regular-season events held on campuses, will have attendance restrictions through the end of March in order to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Attendance at championship events such as the men’s basketball tournament taking place in Nashville this week, will be limited to “essential staff, limited family and credentialed media” with all campus events featuring similar attendance restrictions. To view the SEC’s full statement and release, click HERE.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 20 Tennessee opens Southeastern Conference play this weekend with a trip to Columbia, S.C., to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks.

The Vols and Gamecocks are both coming off convincing midweek victories over in-state opponents and will be looking to get off to a strong start in conference play.

Broadcast Info
This weekend’s entire series will be streamed on SEC Network+ and the ESPN app. Burch Antley (PxP) and Kip Bouknight (color) will have the call for all three contests.

Fans can also listen to the games on the radio via the Vol Network (FM 99.1 / AM 990) as well as UTSports.com and the UT Gameday app, as John Wilkerson calls the action.

Projected Starting Pitchers
Game 1: RHP Chad Dallas (4 GS, 3-0, 2.53 ERA) vs. RHP Carmen Mlodzinski (4 GS, 2-1, 2.84 ERA)
Game 2: LHP Garrett Crochet (1 GS, 0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Thomas Farr (3 GS, 3-0, 1.72 ERA)
Game 3: TBD vs. RHP Brannon Jordan (4 GS, 2-0, 1.71 ERA)

Series History vs. South Carolina
Overall: SC leads, 65-38
In Knoxville: SC leads, 24-22
In Columbia: SC leads, 38-14
Neutral Sites: SC leads, 3-2
Last Meeting: W, 6-3 (March 24, 2019)

Tennessee won last year’s series but has struggled historically in Columbia. The Vols will be looking to earn their first series victory in Columbia since 2006.

Notable
Crochet and Sewell Make Season Debuts
Two of Tennessee’s top returning pitchers have made their season debuts over the past week after being held out with injuries to start the year. Preseason All-American Garrett Crochet started in Saturday’s win over Wright State, pitching 3.1 shutout innings while striking out six batters.

Sophomore right hander Camden Sewell made his 2020 debut in Tuesday’s midweek triumph over ETSU. The Cleveland, Tennessee native got the start and tossed three solid innings. Sewell racked up five strikeouts and allowed just one run on one hit and one walk.

Soularie Heating Up After Slow Start
Preseason All-America and All-SEC selection Alerick Soularie has started to regain last season’s form after a slow start to the year. The junior slugger was just 2-for-20 over the team’s first seven games, but has turned it around over the past 11 contests, batting .350 while leading the team with 11 runs, 14 hits, five home runs, 14 RBI and 30 total bases.

Soularie had his best game of the year in Tuesday’s midweek win over ETSU, going 3-for-5 with a pair of homers and four RBI.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!
Junior infielder Liam Spence has been one of the Vols’ most productive players so far this season. The Geelong, Australia native ranks third on the team with a .346 batting average and is third on the team with 18 hits.

Spence is coming off a productive week where he either led or tied for the team lead in batting average (.417), runs (four), hits (five) and home runs (one). His solo home run in the seventh inning was the difference in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Wright State. Spence followed that performance by tying his career high with three hits, a walk and a run scored in Sunday’s series finale. He also drove in two with a double in Tuesday’s win over ETSU.

The Aussie has been as surehanded as they come defensively while splitting time at shortstop and second base. Spence has committed just one error and leads the team with 56 assists.

Home Run Derby
UT has come out of the gates swinging this season with 31 home runs through 17 games this season, which ranks second in the nation behind Mississippi’s 32. The Vols have hit multiple home runs in 13 of their 17 games and have had 14 different players go deep this season.

Vols Rank Among the Nation’s Leaders
Tennessee enters this weekend ranked among the nation’s leaders in a handful of statistical categories. The Vols rank among the top 25 in the country in each of the following categories:

Offense

  • Batting Average: .320 (5th)
  • Doubles: 43 (6th)
  • Hits: 193 (3rd)
  • Home Runs: 31 (2nd)
  • On-Base Percentage: .442 (2nd)
  • Runs: 180 (1st)
  • Runs/Game: 10.6 (1st)
  • Slugging Percentage: .556 (2nd)
  • Walks: 124 (2nd)

Pitching/Defense

  • ERA: 2.00 (5th)
  • Fielding Percentage: .981 (18th)
  • Hits Allowed/Nine Innings: 6.41 (16th)
  • Shutouts: 3 (12th)
  • Strikeout-to-Walk Ratio: 4.89 (3rd)
  • WHIP: 0.94 (2nd)
  • Walks Allowed/Nine Innings: 2.06 (3rd)

Opponent Scout
South Carolina Gamecocks (12-4 // 0-0 SEC)

  • 2019 Record: 28-28 (8-22 SEC)
  • 2019 Postseason: N/A
  • Head Coach: Mark Kingston (3rd season) // Led South Carolina to the NCAA Super Regionals during his first season as head coach in 2018.
  • South Carolina was picked to finish fifth in the Eastern Division of the SEC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, one spot behind Tennessee.
  • The Gamecocks have won five straight entering this weekend’s series following midweek wins over Furman and The Citadel and a series sweep of Cornell.
  • As usual, SC ranks among the nation’s leaders in home runs, coming in at 12th with 21 bombs this season.
  • Sophomore catcher Wes Clarke leads the SEC and ranks third nationally with eight homers already this season. His 22 RBI are also tied for third in the league.
  • The Gamecocks have gotten solid production from their weekend rotation, as the trio of Carmen Mlodzinski, Thomas Farr and Brannon Jordan have combined to go 7-1 so far this season. All three have ERA’s of 2.84 or lower.

On Deck
The Vols return to Knoxville for a midweek matchup against Georgia State on Tuesday, March 17 before an in-state showdown against SEC rival and defending national champion Vanderbilt next weekend at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

-UT Athletics

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