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Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee redshirt junior pitcher Ben Joyce set a college baseball velocity record in Sunday's 5-3 win over Auburn at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, reaching 105.5 miles per hour. Joyce threw 53 pitches in his longest outing of the season and would love an increased role in the stretch run after missing last season following Tommy John surgery.

Tennessee relief pitcher Ben Joyce produced the most dominant performance of his college career during Sunday's 5-3 series-clinching win over Auburn at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, allowing one hit in four scoreless innings.

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound redshirt junior tallied 37 strikes in his 53 pitches and threw 33 fastballs, with a staggering 28 of those in excess of 103 miles per hour. Three of his pitches touched 105, including a high of 105.5 that set a college baseball record.

Yet perhaps the most intriguing stat is that Sunday's busiest performance so far with the top-ranked Volunteers puts Joyce at just 21 innings this season.

"I guess you can say the coach was too slow in building him up," Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said Sunday afternoon after the Vols improved to 40-4 overall and 19-2 in Southeastern Conference contests, "but we want to be at our best in May and June, and I think Ben is going to be at his best in May and June."

The Vols resume their groundbreaking season Tuesday against visiting Alabama A&M before traveling to Kentucky for a Thursday-through-Saturday series.

Only current New York Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman, who was clocked at 105.8 while with the Cincinnati Reds in 2010, is credited with a harder pitch, so it's understandable how Joyce could entertain thoughts of establishing a new standard in the sport each time he heads to the mound.

"Maybe that's a little bit in the back of my head," a smiling Joyce admitted Sunday, "but at the end of the day, I'm just trying to help this team win. It is exciting to think about these numbers."

Joyce's 21 innings have transpired over 19 games, and he has racked up 38 strikeouts during his limited time while compiling an 0.86 earned run average. He is accomplishing all of this after missing last season following Tommy John surgery.

"The arm and the body feel great, and I'm ready to kind of throw every day now," Joyce said. "I feel like I've passed that hump in the recovery, so I'm feeling good and am ready to keep going."

After his playing days were over at Knox Farragut — the same high school that produced former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and recent New England Patriots first-round offensive lineman Cole Strange — Joyce signed with Walters State Community College in Morristown. He was a Walters State starter in 2020, working into the seventh inning of a matchup at Chattanooga State just days before the sports world was halted by the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Joyce said he hit 100 a "couple of times" before the surgery and that he mostly threw in the mid 90s.

There was a buzz about Joyce's enhanced velocity before the start of this season, and he put it on display against UNC Asheville on Feb. 23, when 10 of his 15 pitches were in excess of 100 with a high of 103. Now he has a 53-pitch outing, and the most imposing member of Tennessee's talented roster is suddenly the most curious as well.

After all, how will Vitello handle Joyce from here?

"We think he can be a starter," Vitello said. "If you're talking about the (Major League Baseball) draft or anything down the road, I wouldn't put that past him. You've got to have a two- or three-pitch mix and throw strikes, and he does that.

"You've also got to have stuff to be able to go through the order multiple times, and he obviously has that."

Joyce repeatedly states that he wants what's best for his team, but he is certainly open to the suggestion.

"I started at Walters State, so it wouldn't be too new," he said. "I'd be comfortable starting for sure."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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