Dan Fleser: Vols Competed - And Competed - Until Exciting Walkoff Hit

  • Saturday, June 15, 2024
  • Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

In the end, all Tennessee ended up losing Friday night was Dylan Dreiling’s baseball jersey.

The Vols’ left-fielder emerged from a joyous scrum of humanity showing off his farmer’s tan and wearing a look of bemusement. Presumably, one of his teammates literally and figuratively had his back regarding the attire. It was the least anyone could do for him after his RBI single delivered Tennessee from defeat to a wondrous 12-11 College World Series victory over Florida State.

“With this offense, we’re always one inning away,” Dreiling said. “That’s kind of our motto this year. And we just had a belief that a big inning was coming and just trusting each other.”

The tournament’s No. 1 overall seed was down to its last inning and, in two instances, its last strike before its faith prevailed. The Vols’ elation over their first walk-off victory of the season was contrasted by the Seminoles’ anguish. Both teams did some walking afterward, but only one was carrying the burden of what happened.

“That’s a tough walk off and walk to that locker room,” Florida State coach Link Jarrett said, “tough.”

After a combined 31 total hits by both teams (10 for extra bases), Tennessee was down to the last inning Dreiling referenced, trailing 11-8. The rally began with Kavares Tears’ triple over the center-fielder’s head and a sacrifice fly. After a walk and another out, two dramatic at-bats set the stage for the finish.

First came Christian Moore. He already had hit for the cycle, becoming just the second player to achieve the feat in a CWS game and the first since 1956.

“Christian Moore was on a mission tonight,” UT coach Tony Vitello said.

The mission wasn’t finished, however, until his final swing. With two strikes on him, Moore lashed a double into the left-field corner, sending Cannon Peebles to third base and putting two baserunners in scoring position. It was fitting that Moore’s postgame comments about the cycle segued quickly to his fifth hit. The first four didn’t matter without it as well.

“Down to my last strike there with two outs,” he said. “Just want to fight. It’s a battle.”

Then up came Brandon Burke. The first baseman made an error in judgement in the first inning, which corresponded with a Florida State infield hit and eventually a run. In the third, he couldn’t catch shortstop Dean Curley’s throw, thereby negating a double play and enabling two more Seminoles’ runs. While Burke had responded with two hits, two runs and an RBI, his ledger wasn’t square as he stepped into the batter’s box.

With two strikes, Burke slammed the brakes on his swing and got the call in his favor. Instead of strike three, it was ball three.

“It was a check swing and I didn’t go,” he said.

Florida State’s dugout said otherwise. A slow-motion replay confirmed only that it was a close call.

“I just kept battling after that,” Burke said. “I just kept battling, kept battling.”

After a foul ball, he drilled a two-run single into center field. Battle won. Tie score.

Billy Amick’s single, which followed Burke’s and preceded Dreiling’s, was no less important than any of the other two-out hits. It merely was up against some tough competition.

They all added up to that ending

“Our guys toughened up pretty good there,” Vitello said. “There was no game plan other than to compete and they did a good job there.”     

     

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 1988. He is a member of the Tennessee Sportswriters and the U.S. Basketball Writers Halls of Fame. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.

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