Beck Shines in Tense, Sometimes Chaotic Tennessee Win
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With help from a two-homer day for right fielder Jordan Beck and some standout work out of the bullpen, Tennessee evened its series against Alabama with a 9-2 win Saturday.
But for much of the evening, the action on the field was overshadowed by the chaos and drama taking place between the coaches, umpires and respective dugouts.
It started right away. With two outs in the top of the first, Alabama third baseman Zane Denton hit a rocket of a line drive off the body of Tennessee righthander Chase Dollander, who immediately fell to the ground in obvious pain.
The out was recorded to end the inning, and after a few moments on the ground, Dollander got up and walked off, although he was removed to begin the second inning.
But while he was being checked out, Tennessee pitching coach Frank Anderson stormed out onto the field, fired up and pointing toward the Alabama dugout. He was quickly ejected.
During that argument, Tony Vitello made his way onto the field and was eventually thrown out by third base umpire Jeffrey Macias, who he had words with the night before when Macias was behind the plate. As he was ejected, Vitello turned back around toward Macias and bumped him, which forced the other umpires to step in between them.
Macias and this Tennessee coaching staff have history as well, as Macias was the home plate umpire in the Volunteers’ game against Texas at the College World Series last season, a game remembered for then-Tennessee assistant Ross Kivett slamming a clipboard on the dugout rail and then tossing a binder onto the field after being ejected.
Things never got quite that heated again, but Alabama first base coach Matt Reida was ejected several innings later and after Beck’s second homer, Macias seemed to tell Tennessee third base coach Josh Elander to have the team cut back its typical home run celebration, which involves placing a fur coat on the hitter, to doing it in the dugout instead of on the field out by the on-deck circle.
“That was a weird one,” said Elander, who was pressed into duty as head coach upon the ejection of Vitello and Anderson. “I said ‘hey, we’ve been doing this all year.’ He just said ‘not on the field,’ but first he said ‘no coat,’ so again, our guys did good, we wanted to make it about us tonight finding a way to win, not really wasting too much emotion on that.”
Tennessee really seemed to thrive in the chaos of it all, and that’s no surprise given the edge that this team plays with. When the temperature of a game gets turned up like it did very quickly on Saturday, the Volunteers seem to hit the gas in a way that few teams can.
“I think it just comes down from Tony, our head coach,” said Elander. “He’s an emotional, passionate guy. When it comes to our players, he’s in the trenches with us every day, in the cages, hitting fungos, throwing BP. When they know everybody in the building is all in, I think it just goes to our players and he allows them to play with a freedom and play hard and be themselves. I think that’s been our magic recipe since we’ve been here.”
Beck in particular seemed galvanized by the energy in the park. He hit a two-run homer to center field in the bottom of the first, in the immediate aftermath of Anderson and Vitello being ejected.
“I think that’s just kind of what you live for as an athlete,” Beck said. “The crowd was into it, the environment was fun and your adrenaline is going through the roof. For me, that’s just one of the fun moments you get in sports.”
Then, in the sixth, after the Crimson Tide closed the deficit to 3-2 on a Denton two-run homer, Beck crushed a line-drive home run to left-center, pumping his fists and yelling back toward his teammates in the dugout as he rounded first base.
Tennessee has plenty of star power among its position players. There are players who have been around longer, like catcher Evan Russell or first baseman Luc Lipcius. There are players who have better numbers this season, like third baseman Trey Lipcomb. But there’s just something about Beck’s presence that seems to make him the heartbeat of the Tennessee lineup.
It was his controversial home run that wasn’t in the series opener against Vanderbilt that created the viral in-game interview moment where coach Tony Vitello referred to Beck as “Mike Honcho,” which is a reference to the Will Ferrell movie Talladega Nights. Now, inside Lindsey Nelson Stadium each game, there are scores of fans wearing jersey t-shirts with Beck’s number 27 and the name “Honcho” on the back.
And, of course, Beck is tremendously talented, to the point that Vitello was saying as far back as 2020 that he thought the outfielder could be a future first-round pick. And with a .319/.396/.585 slash line and nine home runs, he’s also on pace for a career-best season as he heads off to the draft this summer.
“The guy’s a big leaguer, he’s a superstar, a great kid,” Elander said. “He’s from Alabama, so this is one he’s had circled for a long time.”
With Dollander removed after the first inning—there was no official update on Dollander’s status after the game—the Tennessee bullpen is also deserving of quite a bit of credit for the victory.
Righthander Camden Sewell threw 4.1 innings, giving up just the two-run homer to Denton, which moved the game to the late innings and allowed Tennessee to work with something close to a normal bullpen setup to close out the game.
“I thought he was elite,” Elander said of Sewell’s outing. “He did that when we were in Hoover (against) Florida. There’s 104 mph down there (with Ben Joyce) and Redmond (Walsh) and all those guys, but Cam’s always a guy that seems, in a jam, he’s going to find a way to get us outs. Just a great effort.”
There were a lot of reasons for Tennessee to lose its focus on Saturday. The entire coaching staff had to shift roles on the fly. The home crowd made the game something of an interactive experience, up to and including exploding into uproarious cheers when a foul ball was hit into the Alabama dugout. And tensions were just generally high from the first pitch to the last.
But rather than slink away from it or shrink in those moments, the Volunteers seemed emboldened by it and made a statement in a season already filled with them.