Tennessee drowns LSU 4-2 in Game 1 of Knoxville Super Regional
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The clouds opened suddenly on Saturday, and rain poured in sheets across the turf at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
LSU third-baseman Cade Doughty knocked a solo home run during the downpour, which foreshadowed a 50-minute lightning delay in Tennessee's first Super Regional matchup against the Tigers.
The Vols didn't flinch. And neither did their crowd.
Fueled by a packed house and a three-run sixth inning, Tennessee roared back from two one-run deficits to clinch a 4-2 win over the Bayou Bengals on Saturday night.
That crowd wasn't just inside the gates, either, as Tennessee hosted a "Big Orange Block Party" for those who didn't get tickets to the game.
“I don’t know how you beat that environment, other than keep the rain away,” Tony Vitello said. “Although the rain seemed to stoke the fire a little bit.”
Now, UT needs just one more victory this weekend to ignite its first College World Series appearance since 2005.
"It's kind of been a rough go from Day One," added Vitello. "Somehow, the kids have embraced that and almost welcomed it."
Sixth-inning singles get the job done
Tennessee also welcomed the aforementioned sixth frame.
Max Ferguson drew a walk before Jake Rucker doubled to left field, and Drew Gilbert scored Ferguson with a fielder's choice single to tie the score at 2-2.
Luc Lipcius put the Vols at a 3-2 advantage with another fielder's choice single, and Jordan Beck knocked an RBI single to score the third run of the frame for a 4-2 lead.
“They didn’t really hit balls hard, and yet they were able to scratch three runs across, and that was the ballgame,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri.
The Tigers' second run on Saturday had come off an errant throw from Connor Pavolony to score Drew Bianco, while the Vols' catcher came through with an RBI groundout in the third inning to put Tennessee on the board.
That groundout was one of two redemption-fueled moments for Pavolony, who later gunned down Dylan Crews to cap a double play in the top of the eighth inning.
"Cheese" delivers the cheddar, and...
Following the win, Tennessee starter Chad Dallas said the Vols "stayed positive" through the deficits, waiting "for something to go (their) way."
And "Cheese," as he is affectionately known, was a big part of that "something."
The junior right-hander notched a career-high 12 strikeouts in six innings against the Tigers.
Notably, five of those strikeouts came against Dylan Crews and Tre' Morgan III -- two of the first three hitters in LSU's lineup.
Dallas also kept the ball after the rain delay, and there was no question in his mind when play was stopped.
"There was nothing that was going to take me out of that game," he said. "No matter how long (the delay) was."
Added Vitello: "He's not going to let anything happen that he doesn't want to. He just kind of had that look of determination, like he was in 'get it done' mode."
All of those moments emphasized Dallas' leadership. Arguably, though, his biggest moment of the day came in a second meeting with Cade Doughty.
After giving up the solo shot to Doughty early-on, Dallas faced the LSU third-baseman again in the top of the fourth frame. This time, the Texas native wouldn't be denied. He got Doughty swinging before strutting back toward Tennessee's dugout.
The sequence kept the score tied 1-1, and it brought Lindsey Nelson Stadium to one of several roars on Saturday night.
...Hunley slams the door
Though Dallas' moment was big, Hunley's was arguably even bigger.
After replacing Dallas in relief, the composed senior maintained control for three innings. He allowed three hits, dealt four strikeouts, and delivered the final blow via a full-count strikeout with runners on second and third.
"He does it against everybody," said Mainieri on the Vols' closer. "He's tremendous. I thought he rose up and got a big strikeout there at the end."
Hunley flexed after the payoff pitch, which marked the end to his program-record-breaking 33rd appearance this season.
Then, his teammates sprinted out of the dugout to join a party that’s one win from the College World Series.