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Weekend Review: Shriners Showdown Trophy Goes Home with Tennessee

By Sam Thornton

Tennessee opened the 2024 season with a trip down to Arlington, TX, to play in the Shriners Children's College Showdown. The Vols have a lot to prove, coming off their second trip to Omaha in the past three seasons. Tony Vitello is pushing to take that next step and make some noise in Omaha this season. If there was one thing the Vols taught their fans on opening weekend, it is that Billy Amick and AJ Russell are the real deal.

Game One - #6 Tennessee 6, Texas Tech 2

The story of this game was the two AJ's that led the Vols on the mound. AJ Russell got his second career start, coming off a freshman All-American campaign in 2023. Russell went 4.2 IP and struck out 10 Texas Tech batters, showing why he deserved that Friday night start over returning ace Drew Beam. AJ Causey entered in relief and went 4.1 innings to finish the game. Causey punched out another seven hitters to combine with Russell for 17 total strikeouts.

Causey is one of many new faces Tony Vitello ran out on Friday night against Texas Tech. Transfer catcher Cannon Peebles scored the first run of the season on an impressive opposite field home run off the bat of fellow transfer Amick. The lineup showed they have the ability to hit from top to bottom off a tough Texas Tech pitching staff.

Game Two - Oklahoma 5, #6 Tennessee 1 (10 inn.)

Tennessee switched up the lineup with a few more players making their season debut Saturday night. The lineup looked a lot less dangerous at the plate against Oklahoma. Credit goes to the OU pitching staff for keeping Vol hitters off balance. The Vols were able to get some hits and get on base, but they had trouble stringing them together, going 0-8 with runners in scoring position. The defense looked much better than what was expected from this Vols team coming into the season. The quartet of 3B Amick, SS Christian Moore, CF Hunter Ensley, and LF Dylan Dreiling all made great plays in the field and kept the Vols in a low-scoring game that eventually went to extra innings tied 1-1.

The best play of the night, and possibly the best play of the year, happened in the 8th inning when Causey made a diving catch off the mound and proceeded to throw the ball to Moore, who tagged second base, then the runner advancing from 1st to 2nd, the Vols first triple play since 1997. Unfortunately, the Vols ended up allowing four runs in the 10th inning to drop their first game of the year. The bats did not struggle as badly as the score looked, but they did not find a way to drive any runs in despite plenty of opportunities.

Game Three - #6 Tennessee 11, Baylor 5

Zander Sechrist got the start on Sunday, after being a reliable midweek starter for the Vols over the past couple seasons. Sechrist struggled early and was relieved by another new face and transfer from Wichita State, Nate Snead. The 6'2" right-hander worked out of a jam in the 3rd and went on to throw five innings, striking out four and allowing two runs. Snead ran his fastball up to 100 mph a handful of times against Baylor and showed that he will be a valuable piece for Frank Anderson's pitching staff in Knoxville.

The offense came alive as well, powered by homers from Amick and Kavares Tears. The Vols combined for 12 hits and another 9 walks that led to 11 runs and the first glimpse of what this offense is truly capable of. Expect more games like the one on Sunday than what we saw from the offense on Saturday.


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