The objective coming into Sunday’s matchup was clear: beat the Florida Gators (30-23, 10-17).
A win would help strengthen the Tennessee Volunteers’ (35-17, 12-15) case for a NCAA Tournament bid, but a loss would severely weaken it.
The Vols overcame an early 4-1 deficit with a furious mid-game rally and relief pitcher Sean Hunley dominated en route to a 5-4 win that also clinched a series victory for the Big Orange.
Speaking of pitching, it dominated the early innings of the game right from the start. Neither program got past its first three batters in the first inning, with Zach Linginfelter and Nick Pogue recording one strikeout apiece.
The Vols got on the board in the top of the second thanks to an Evan Russell home run down the left field line. Tennessee led 1-0, despite six of the first seven batters’ inability to reach first base.
Florida scored in the bottom of the third inning after Brady McConnell drove in Jud Fabian for the 1-1 tie, but both pitchers continued to dominate.
The fourth inning saw only Wil Dalton get on base because of a walk, and the Gators couldn’t take advantage. Liginfelter recorded two more strikeouts while Pogue worked the infield to take care of his opponents.
But the levee broke in the bottom of the fifth inning. Florida scored three runs off of four hits to take a 4-1 lead. It all started with a single from Jacob Young, who then stole second shortly after.
With Young now on second base, Fabian was able to take full advantage of the situation, sending him home off a RBI single down the left sideline. Two straight homers from McConnell (15) and Austin Langworthy (7) were enough to put the Gators up by three, ending Liginfelter’s day.
Senior reliever Richard Jackson came in and immediately took care of the next batter in Nelson Maldonado, but the Vols still trailed, 4-1.
Just like Saturday’s matchup, Tennessee needed its bats to come through. Could the offense help pull off another comeback?
Nolan Crisp came in to relieve Pogue in the top of the sixth and the Vols got their first hit since the second inning thanks to a single from Jay Charleston. However, it was all the bats could muster, which obviously wasn’t enough to overcome the three-run deficit.
Tennessee’s defense bailed Jackson out in the bottom of the sixth with a 4-3 double play that keyed a 1-2-3 inning for the Vols. It was the first double play of the series for either team.
And then all of a sudden, Crisp found himself in trouble in the top of the seventh inning with two runners on base and one out. He was also down 2-0 to Ricky Martinez who was at bat.
Gators’ head coach Kevin O’Sullivan came out to give Crisp a pep talk, but it didn’t work. Martinez blasted one out of the park for a three-run homer to tie the game, 4-4.
Crisp was pulled in favor of Christian Scott after a Pavolony single that followed the Martinez home run. Scott didn’t fare much better, however, as Ammons immediately doubled to right center - sending Pavolony to third.
Pavolony would then score the go ahead run after a Charleston grounder forced Scott to throw him out at first. The Vols finished the inning with four runs off four hits and led, 5-4 .
An Alerick Soularie single gave way to another pitching change for Florida. This time, it was a familiar face in Jordan Butler, who came in for relief during Saturday’s matchup.
Tennessee looked like it was about to increase the lead, but the Gators were able to escape the top of the inning unscathed.
Florida nearly homered on the first two at-bats of the bottom of the eight, but Ammons and Charleston both made great plays on the ball, catching it before it could go over the fence. Hunley, who came in to relieve Jackson in the seventh inning, continued his stellar play as he struck out Brady Smith to send the Vols into the top of the final inning with the lead.
The Vols couldn’t pad the lead, but Hunley continued his dominant performance over the swamp lizards, leading his team to the series-clinching win.
He finished the game with just one hit allowed, two strikeouts, and no runs in three innings. He threw just 42 pitches and sat down 9 of the 10 batters he faced. It was his first save of the year.
The victory gave the Vols an 11-7 record against SEC East opponents, their first winning record against the division since 2010.
Tennessee hosts Tennessee Tech on Tuesday, May 14th for its midweek game before a Thursday-Saturday showdown with the 14th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels. First pitch is scheduled for 6PM EST.