Dan Fleser: Vols Move Closer To Possible Grand CWS Finish

  • Wednesday, June 19, 2024
  • Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

Five days ago, Tennessee was down to its last at-bat and its last strike, trailing Florida State by two runs.

Seemed like another season ago after the Vols advanced to the College World Series’ championship series with a 7-2 victory over the Seminoles on Wednesday. The desperation of their 12-11 comeback in the teams’ CWS opener was replaced by a largely dominant performance in the rematch.

The Vols jumped on the Seminoles’ depleted pitching for three runs in their first at-bat. Starting pitcher Zander Sechrist held the opposition’s potent bats in check until the seventh inning. The defense backed the senior’s performance with multiple clutch plays. The sum of this effort advanced Tennessee to within two victories of the program’s first national championship.

Wednesday’s victory bore an eerie resemblance to Monday’s victory over North Carolina with respect to one specific highlight. The Vols were the visiting team and in the bottom of the inning, center fielder Kavaras Tears ran into the outfield wall in right-center field after snagging Marco Dinges’ long fly ball. The impact sent Tears tumbling backward to the ground. His cap and sunglasses went flying but the baseball did not, remaining snugly in his glove.

Tennessee baseball’s social media account joked “Wall about to be in concussion protocol . . .”

The play recalled Hunter Ensley’s catch and wall collision against the Tar Heels. His impact resulted in a leg injury that limited Ensley to designated hitter duty against Florida State. Tears moved over from right field to take Ensley’s place in the field.

Much like Ensley’s catch, the impact of Tears’ play went beyond the actual impact.

“K.T.’s catch set the tone, especially in the first inning,” Sechrist said. “I know our offense scored in the top of the first, but he set the tone right there.”

Sechrist, who had started the clinching victories of the regional and super regional in Knoxville, faced a lineup that averaged nine runs per game in the CWS and didn’t blink. He bobbed his head in an unusual manner during some of his pitches, as if he was being whiplashed by something. He didn’t hit the proverbial wall, though, until the Seminoles hit him with consecutive homers in the seventh.

During a post-game interview with ESPN, Sechrist said he was “living a childhood dream” in making his first appearance in Omaha.

“He was electric,” said reliever Kirby Connell, who shared the interview with his good friend. “He came out and started us off really good. He ended up getting to the seventh, which was really good to see out of him. And it was awesome for him to be able to hand the ball to me.”

Connell took the ball and delivered 1.2 innings of scoreless relief. After surrendering a leadoff single in the eighth inning, he got his glove on Cam Smith’s smash back through middle, converting what looked to be a sure hit into a double play.

It was that kind of day for the Vols, who moved closer to a possible grand CWS finish.

* * *

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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