Tennessee hit five home runs — two of which came off the bat of Griffin Merritt — while Andrew Lindsey pitched 6.2 innings of three-run ball, and the Vols took game one against the Kentucky Wildcats 10-6.
The Vols took the lead in the bottom of the second, when Christian Moore absolutely smashed the first pitch of the inning ball outta the park for his 13th home run of the season and his seventh dinger since April 28th.
Moore’s blast left the park at 112 MPH and traveled 440 feet before it settled somewhere behind the party deck in left field. His bat’s been absolutely critical in the second-half of the season, and I don’t imagine it’s a huge coincidence that he had just one RBI in the final two games of the Georgia series that the Vols dominated in the first game but then dropped the last two contests by a combined score of 12-5.
UK managed to tie the game in the top of the third, when Vols’ starter Andrew Lindsey gave up a lead-off double and then a sacrifice bunt put the runner at third. UK’s third batter of the inning reached on a fielder’s choice play, and the runner at third scored on a Lindsey throwing error.
But Moore’s home run was just the appetizer, as the Vols blew the game open in the bottom of the third. Maui Ahuna drew a leadoff walk, and then Hunter Ensley hit his sixth home run of the year — a two-run shot that, like Moore’s home run in the second, went way past the 400-foot mark, landing at 439 feet, per UT’s twitter page. Ensley’s stellar defensive play in centerfield this season, along with the display of some pop in his bat and a near .300 average may have him catch some looks come time for the MLB draft.
Jared Dickey, who’s been on an absolute tear at the plate over the last couple weeks, took one strike and then went back-to-back with Ensley for his 11th home run of the year and fourth in SEC play. During conference play, Dickey leads the team in average (.361), hits (35), total bases (51), on-base percentage (.432) and he’s struck out the fewest times of anybody on the team (13).
Jared Dickey: Professional Hitter of Baseballs.— Tennessee Baseball (@Vol_Baseball) May 12, 2023
He's already 3-for-3 on the day, extending his hit streak to 13 games. He's had multiple hits in seven of his last nine.#GBO // #OTH // BeatKentucky pic.twitter.com/onziGG6GeN
Tennessee wasn’t done in the third, as Blake Burke worked a full-count walk with still no outs in the bottom of the frame. Burke advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch, and Christian Moore followed with a single to right that was hit just hard enough to keep Burke at third.
It didn’t matter much, because Kentucky pulled its starter and Griffin Merritt welcomed reliever Jackson Nove to the game with a three-run shot to leftfield. Zane Denton drew a five-pitch walk, and even catcher Cal Stark got in on the action with a base knock to left that scored Denton after a sacrifice bunt from Christian Scott.
Maui Ahuna and Hunter Ensley both struck out to end the frame, but the Vols entered the third up 1-0 and left it up 8-1 after five hits and three home runs as every hitter saw the plate at least once.
Lindsey gave up the one unearned run in the top of the third, but otherwise he put in a quality start for the Vols in the first game of the weekend — something that’s been key to Tennessee taking series wins. Lindsey threw a season-high 103 pitches, 64 of which were called strikes, over 6.2 innings. It was an outing that’s starting to look familiar from Lindsey, as he gave up six hits and just two earned runs while walking two and striking out four. Since his second start, when he went 6.2 IP and struck out 10 on just 77 pitches against Vandy, he’s struck out three, one and four against Mississippi State, Georgia and Kentucky, respectively.
Kentucky put up a single run in the T5 when he gave up a lead-off home run to UK catcher and seven-hole hitter Devin Burkes. Lindsey pitched into the seventh and managed to get two outs, but Burkes led the inning off with a single, then two outs later Cats’ lead-off hitter Jackson Gray doubled down the LF line and scored Burkes. With one on and two outs, and Lindsey already passed his season-high pitch total, Vitello went to the bullpen for RS sophomore Aaron Combs. Combs had 33 Ks in just 18 IP before tonight’s game and came in and got the final out of the seventh with a swinging strikeout.
UT had added two more runs in the sixth, when Christian Moore took a four-pitch walk before Griffin Merritt hit his second home run of the night. The two-run blast gave Merritt his team-leading 5th RBI for the game.
Tennessee stranded two in the B7, then Combs led the eighth by hitting a batter and tossing a subsequent full-count walk. Even with a seven-run lead, Tony Vitello brought out the quick hook for Combs in favor of true freshman and Franklin, TN native AJ Russell.
Russell’s been a nice surprise, especially since conference play started, coming into the game with a 1.35 ERA with 1 R, 1 BB, 8 Ks and a team-leading .190 opponents’ batting average (qualifier: more than one appearance in SEC play). With two on and no outs, he struck out two of the three batters he faced, and Cal Stark threw out a runner at first in between the two Ks. The Vols kept the 10-3 lead as they headed into the B8.
Zane Denton kicked off the half inning with a lead-off single, then Christian Scott drew a four-pitch walk, and it looked like the Vols were primed for another couple runs in the inning. But Austin Jaslove pinch hit for Cal Stark and struck out, then Maui Ahuna struck out for the third time of the night. Ahuna went 0-5 on the game and reached base just once on a walk. Maui made a couple impressive plays in the field, but he doesn’t look like he’s comfortable in the box. Prior to tonight’s game, he was hitting ,296 in league play, but he’s leading the team in strikeouts (34) and has drawn just 13 walks out of the lead-off spot. Ensley flied out to end the inning with two Vols stranded.
Things got interesting in the top of the ninth, when Vitello brought in Zander Sechrist to finish off the game. Instead, he hit the first batter he faced and gave up a run-scoring double to the next batter.
Vitello yanked Sechrist for Kirby Connell, since the Cats had a lefty batter up, and Connell threw one pitch that left the yard off the bat of Jackson Gray for a two-run home run. All the sudden, UK cut the lead to 10-6, and Vitello brought in Hollis Fanning, who we’ve seen Tony go to in the ninth before. Fanning needed just six pitches to strike out the final two batters and secure the game-one win for Tennessee.
Lindsey got the win tonight, which was his first this year and brought his record to 1-2.
Tennessee’s pitchers struck out nine against just three walks, while the UK hurlers walked 10 and struck out eight.
Christian Scott, Maui Ahuna and Blake Burke were the only starters who didn’t record a hit tonight, though Burke reached base three times on two walks and a hit-by-pitch, while Scott reached base twice on two walks.
Burke’s got just two home runs in his last 12 games and is now third on the team in SEC-play dingers (five) with just a .226 average.
Chase Dollander likely makes the start tomorrow, with the first pitch scheduled for 12 PM EST.