Dna Fleser: Dylan Dreiling Comes Through Again As Vols Head To Title Game

  • Sunday, June 23, 2024

Dylan Dreiling backed up his words with his bat – again.

Nine days ago, Tennessee’s left-fielder expressed his faith in the Vols’ hitters after demonstrating his devotion with a clutch single to cap a four-run comeback against Florida State.

“With this offense, we’re always one inning away,” he said. “That’s kind of our motto this year.”

The Vols were down to their last out and last strike twice in that CWS opener versus the Seminoles. They were down to their last game on Sunday when Dreiling smashed a two-run homer into the right-field seats with two outs in the seventh inning against Texas A&M. With one swing, he erased a deficit that had stood since the first inning and pointed Tennessee toward a 4-1 victory that evened the best-of-three championship series.

The teams will decide the national championship on Monday night at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Neb.

“I felt we were more true to who we (are) today in pregame, in the dugout, during the game,” UT coach Tony Vitello said. “And again, it’s easy to say that because we end up doing OK on the scoreboard. But I’d rather go into battle with that group the way they showed up today and hope they do the same tomorrow.”

UT’s deficit, courtesy of a Jace LaViolette homer to the same area code as Dreiling’s, had been magnified to funhouse-mirror proportions by UT’s 0-for-7 hitting futility with runners in scoring position and 0-for-16 frustration overall with runners on base. Twice, the Vols left the bases loaded.

With UT running low on innings, the motto needed its spokesman. Dreiling dug into the batter’s box and repeated his heroics.

“He’s already a quiet kid,” teammate Cal Stark said, “but I think his heart just kind of stays calm; his mind stays calm. And I feel he’s kind of built for those moments.”

Tennessee’s cause likely was helped by Dreiling facing reliever Kaiden Wilson, a freshman who had logged just 8.2 innings previously this season. If Tennessee accomplished anything in Saturday night’s 9-5 loss in the series opener, it was forcing the Aggies to use star closer Evan Aschenbeck for 2.2 innings and 46 pitches to finish.

Aschenbeck was throwing in the bullpen when Dreiling delivered.

“Obviously, Evan was on my mind when Dreiling hit the homer,” A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Just thought it was a lot to ask for him to get seven outs after last night.”

The Aggies stuck with Wilson into the eighth and Stark, who was 0-for-16 at the plate in the CWS, hit another two-run shot. The second homer cushioned Tennessee against an A&M scoring threat in the ninth.

Tennessee starter Drew Beam struck out seven of the first 10 batters he faced and pitched into the fifth inning. He handed the ball to Aaron Combs, who threw 4-plus innings of scoreless relief.

“He says he’s available (Monday),” Vitello said. “So, maybe it’s premature but one of my favorite guys to coach.”

Beam and Combs bought time for the hitters, who were struggling to break through against A&M reliever Chris Cortez. He overcame occasional Double-A control (five walks) with Major League velocity and pitch movement (seven strikeouts) to throw 99 pitches and 4.1 shutout innings.

“We were just trying to keep leaning on Cortez,” Dreiling said. “He did a good job today, and we were just trying to get his pitch count up and get deeper into the (bull)pen.”

Mission accomplished.

* * *

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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