Vols 6-1 victory over Carolina almost normal

Marvin Westwestwords

Ho hum, what we had in Omaha Sunday evening was just an ordinary Tennessee victory, 6-1 over North Carolina in the College World Series.

There wasn’t a lot of high drama. Coach Tony Vitello didn’t even yell at umpires. Kavares Tears and Reese Chapman hit home runs. Drew Beam pitched better than he did the other day. Relief pitchers were more comforting. Defense showed some improvement.

The only surprise was Christian Moore didn’t blast a single ball out of the park. No, not even one.

The Volunteers, 2-0 in the tournament, will have to wait around until Wednesday for the Tar Heels or Florida State to make it back from the losers’ bracket.

Pitcher Drew Beam #32

Pitcher Kirby Connell #35

OK, I’m partly kidding. The win was big. Top-ranked Tennessee took a giant step toward the championship series. The game wasn’t dull. Tears batted in four runs with his homer and a double. Beam looked like old times for five innings. Older-timer Kirby Connell snuffed out a somewhat serious North Carolina threat.

Superstar Vance Honeycutt homered for the losers. All Carolina got off Vol pitching was that, four singles and four walks.

Tennessee standout Hunter Ensley crashed into the center field wall to make a sensational catch. The former football star at Huntingdon High (twice all-state) glared at the barrier for not getting out of the way.

The fence eventually won. Ensley dropped out of the game a few innings later. At a minimum, he is plenty sore. He might have a hip or leg injury. He also bumped his head.

Shea Sprague pitched three hitless innings for the Tar Heels. Blake Burke got a soft single in the fourth. Dylan Dreiling walked. Tears lashed a line drive into the North Carolina bullpen.

Bingo, 3-0.

Outfielder Hunter Ensley #9 celebrates the catch. At right are indentations and a grease spot he left on the outfield wall. (Photo By Ian Cox/ Tennessee Athletics)

Tears has 20 home runs. Dylan Dreiling has 20. Billy Amick has 23. Moore has 33. Tennessee is the second team in NCAA history to have four players hit 20 or more in a season. Burke has 19. If you’ll cross your fingers and help him, he might get to 20.

Beam set the early pitching pace for Tennessee. The big righthander, outstanding in two previous seasons, has struggled in recent weeks. Evansville tagged him for five runs in the super regional.

He was some degree of brilliant against Carolina. He needed just 34 pitches to retire 12 Tar Heels. The fifth inning required more effort. Trouble found him in the sixth.

There was a lengthy delay because the home-plate umpire was injured. Kellen Levy went away to be evaluated for a possible concussion. A replacement had to dress for combat. As soon as play resumed, Honeycutt homered. Two singles later, Drew was gone.

Connell came to the rescue. He induced a gentle groundout. He picked off a runner. He got the third out on strikes. Tennessee fans chanted “Kirby, Kirby, Kirby.”

Everybody knows him. He’s been around at least five years. He’s from Johnson City. He has a handle-bar mustache. He is cool even when fire is threatening.

Chapman’s home run ended Sprague’s pitching performance. Dean Curley singled in the fifth run. Tears’ double in the eighth wrapped up the scoring. Tennessee had only seven hits.

Nate Snead was the Vols’ finishing pitcher. He has had crisper days but all he gave up in two innings were two walks.

Vitello was plenty pleased that the Volunteers were still focused following the emotional victory over Florida State.

“Kudos to our players for that.”

The coach praised Drew’s performance. He knows he has players who would run through walls for him but he didn’t expect Ensley to really try to do it. He spoke kind words about North Carolina.

Carolina coach Scott Forbes was factual.

“A lot of credit to Tennessee. I thought Drew Beam was really, really good. We had our chance that one inning. Obviously, we didn’t capitalize.

“Tennessee got the big hit and capitalized. We could not do that.”

Carolina with one loss has at least one game to play.

Forbes said that was exactly what he told his team.

“I said ‘Move on. We have a 24-hour rule when we win. After we lose, we have to be quicker. When you walk out of the clubhouse, this one is gone.’”

(Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com).


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