Tennessee Baseball has flatly denied false allegations made by an ESPN announcer on Friday night that starting catcher Evan Russell failed a drug test due to performance-enhancing drugs and was suspended for the remainder of the season. .
“Evan Russell’s absence last night has nothing to do with a violation of team, NCAA or SEC rules,” a UT spokesperson said in a statement Saturday.
Russell missed Tennessee’s 10-0 win over Alabama State in Friday’s NCAA Tournament opener because he suffered from anxiety and stress, his father said on social media.
A source told Knox News on Saturday that Russell is available to play against Campbell in the winners’ game on Saturday. Russell had a meeting with UT team medical officer Chris Klenck on Saturday morning and was cleared to play.
ESPN announcer Troy Eklund, a former Arkansas outfielder, made his false claims Friday night during the broadcast of Oklahoma State’s 10-5 win over Missouri State, going as far as saying that Russell was done for the year and that the whole team would be subjected to drug tests, none of which are true.
Advertisers later reported Vitello’s post-match comments about Russell’s illness, but continued to refer to “reports and speculation”, as if there was another reason for the absence of Russell.
UT has “been in touch with ESPN,” a spokesperson said. “ESPN is handling the situation and we expect a public apology from them later today.”
Jason Russell, Russell’s father, also refuted the claim. He said Russell had scheduled a meeting with doctors on Saturday morning after a “health problem…which prevented him from playing”.
“He didn’t fail any type of test or anything,” Jason Russell wrote on Twitter.
Tennessee surprised the college baseball world by announcing shortly before Friday’s game that Russell would not be available against the Hornets.
Vitello shared that Russell texted him Friday morning saying he was sick, which led to his absence.
UT pitched redshirt rookie Charlie Taylor at catcher against Alabama State. Taylor went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. He had an RBI on a safety pressure in the sixth.
Russell started 50 games for Tennessee this season, averaging .299 and 13 homers.
“Glad to hear that Evan Russell is feeling better and back with the team,” UT Athletic Director Danny White wrote on Twitter. “Sad that for the past 24 hours this young man has had to endure speculation and criticism.”
Russell has 38 career home runs, tied with Todd Helton for the Tennessee program record. The Lexington, Tennessee, native played 228 games, one shy of Pete Derkay’s program record.
“Thank you for everyone’s concern today,” Jason Russell wrote on Facebook. “Life is more than baseball. But letting everyone know that Evan is good. Thanks for the prayers!!!”
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will give you access to it all.