The 15th ranked Tennessee baseball team (14-3) kicked off a three-game set with the UNC-Greensboro Spartans Friday night in Knoxville. The series served as the final full series tune-up before advancing into conference play. The Volunteers will take on in-state competitor ETSU Tuesday night before departing for Athens and a three-game set against the Georgia Bulldogs.
Game one saw Chad Dallas (2-0) take the ball for Tennessee. Pitching 5.1 innings, allowing only one hit, one run, walking a pair, and striking out seven, Dallas obtained his second win of the season in a game Tennessee would ultimately win by a 6-2 score. Redmond Walsh earned the save, his third, after contributing 1.2 innings and striking out five in a strong relief effort.
The game remained knotted at 0-0 prior to the fourth inning when Jordan Beck doubled, plating both Jake Rucker and Pete Derkay, pushing the Volunteers ahead 2-0. In the fifth, Connor Pavolony pushed across another when he singled into left field, scoring Max Ferguson. Headed to the sixth, Tennessee led 3-0.
Thanks to a pair of sixth inning solo home runs, Greensboro was able to cut the Tennessee lead to 3-2. That would be the extent of the Spartans’ scoring. The team only managed four hits on the night, with one attributed to each pitcher who appeared for Tennessee.
A Ferguson home run (2) added a single insurance run for Tennessee in the seventh. In the eighth, a Beck sacrifice fly scored Rucker before a fielder’s choice brought in Drew Gilbert, further adding to the lead, making it a 6-2 ballgame – a score which would stand through the final half frame.
Saturday evening’s game was a higher scoring affair, one which saw Tennessee push across 14 runs on 20 hits. Greensboro tried to match in kind by adding nine runs on 11 hits. Will Heflin pitched two innings to kick off the game, allowing six runs on five hits. Elijah Pleasants entered the ballgame and pitched an inning, allowing a run. Mark McLaughlin contributed to longest time spent on the mound, tossing five innings, allowing three hits and two runs. He claimed the win in the game, his first of the year.
It was the Spartans who broke open the scoring in game two, with a two-run homer and an RBI single giving Greensboro the 3-0 lead. The Volunteers didn’t waste much time responding, however, when a sacrifice fly cut the UNCG lead to two before a Liam Spence triple plated one; the inning rounded out with a Derkay single, scoring Spence and knotting the game at 3-3.
Promptly in the third, Greensboro regained the advantage, scoring four runs in the inning, two of which came off a Windish home run. A Luc Lipcius solo shot (3) brought Tennessee back within striking distance in the fourth. Another lone run in the fifth shrunk the UNCG lead to two.
But a big sixth inning helped Tennessee to take the lead for the first time in the game. Ferguson tripled in a run, 7-6; Jackson Greer grounded out, but a run scored in the process, 7-7; Gilbert singled in Spence, 8-7; Derkay scored on a Beck walk, 9-7; Lipcius singled and brought in a pair, making it 11-7 by the end of the inning. In the seventh, Derkay singled in Spence; Gilbert singled in Derkay, then Rucker stole home, claiming a 14-7 Tennessee advantage.
Greensboro would get two more in the ninth, but the final score settled on 14-9, with Tennessee taking its 13th win of the season.
Game three started just after 1:00 Sunday afternoon. Tennessee deployed only two pitchers, starting the game with Blade Tidwell (2-1), who pitched six innings and earned the win. Sean Hunley came on in relief to contribute the final three innings and earned the save in the process, his first of the season.
Tennessee scored its first run in the second after a flyout and throwing error, making it 1-0. An RBI single by the Spartans (Rosier) in the third, pulling the game even, 1-1. Gilbert hit his fourth home run of the season in the third inning, a solo shot which pushed the Volunteers back ahead, 2-1. Two more came in the fourth when Pavolony doubled and Spence flied out, 4-1.
A run in the fifth cut the Tennessee lead in half but the Volunteers got the run back in the bottom of the inning thanks to a Ferguson double. Greensboro scored its final run of the game in the seventh after a stolen base and subsequent throwing error. Gilbert added another homer (5) in the eighth inning – a grand slam – pushing Tennessee ahead by a 9-3 tally, a score which would hold through the game.
As mentioned up top, Tennessee will host ETSU March 16th with a 6:30 start time. The first SEC series of the year begins Friday night at 6:00 in Athens against Georgia. Games two and three on Saturday and Sunday will both begin at 1:00.