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Vols Bounce Back, Take Game Two Against No. 1 Gators

Photo Credit: Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics
Photo Credit: Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee (25-22, 7-16 SEC) ended a five-game skid on Saturday afternoon, defeating the No. 1 Florida Gators (39-8, 15-7 SEC) 5-2.

Tennessee reliever Andy Cox (3.2 IP, 2 H, 2 K, 2 BB) got the win once again in relief, improving to 3-5 on the season.

Vols Rally Against Potential No. 1 Pick

Florida starter A.J. Puk will most likely be the first overall pick in the MLB draft this summer. On Saturday, the lefty lasted 3.1 innings, giving up two earned runs on three hits.

The Gators struck first when Buddy Reed singled down the first-base line to bring home Jonathan India. But Tennessee found its rhythm offensively in the bottom of the third. Chris Hall singled up the middle with one out to record UT’s first hit. Nick Senzel homered to left on the first pitch he saw, scoring Hall to give Tennessee a 2-1 lead.

Florida tied it up at two in the sixth, but Tennessee would quickly regain the lead. Leno Ramirez was hit by a pitch from Brady Singer to lead off the sixth. After a Brett Langhorne SAC bunt, Derek Lance singled to center, scoring Ramirez. Leadoff hitter Brodie Leftridge then tripled to right field, giving the Vols a 4-2 lead with one out in the bottom of the sixth. Chris Hall would bring in Leftridge with a SAC fly to left, making it 5-2.

Dave Serrano was pleased with his team’s fight, coming back from an early deficit to beat an elite pitcher.

“That was a good baseball game by both teams,” Serrano said. “You got to give our kids credit. We had a rough weekend last weekend and we lose last night, very easily they could just put their head down, but they won’t. It goes to show that when we play together and we do more things right than wrong we can beat anybody in the country.”

Brodie Leftridge Shines on Offense and Defense

Leadoff hitter and center fielder Brodie Leftridge played well in just his 12th start of the season. Leftridge was 1-for-4 with an RBI triple, but his biggest impact came defensively. When Nelson Maldonado nailed a fly ball to left-center with two men on, Leftridge made a leaping grab at the wall to save two runs.

Leftridge said he used some skills from his football days to make the catch.

“I just saw it off the bat,” Leftridge said. “I used to play receiver in high school so whenever a ball gets in the air I just track it down. I got a good jump on and I knew I could get it right off the bat.”

When he connected with a fastball in the sixth inning, Leftridge knew he was racing for third base.

“I was heading three automatically,” Leftridge said. “I knew I was going to get to third and I was just glad to put a run on the board for my team. The at-bat felt good. I knew he was going to throw an inside fastball, so I just wanted to hit it the other way.”

This is Leftridge’s second straight weekend starting in the leadoff role, a spot he said he loves.

“I’ve looked at other players in the leadoff role,” Leftridge said. “Watching players like Anfernee Greer (Auburn) and other players like that gave me an idea of how to be a leadoff hitter.”

Serrano compared Leftridge’s ascension to the top of the order to Jordan Rodgers’ breakout season last year.

“When Jordan got in there everyday you started to see him mature,” Serrano said. “You’ve seen this with Brodie now. He’s taking good at bats and he’s showing up everyday to be in the lineup.”

Senzel Wins Battle of First Round Picks

Nick Senzel reached base twice against A.J. Puk. He walked in the first inning and hit a towering two-run homer in the third. Dave Serrano said that his at-bats against Puk will make a lasting impression on scouts.

“When someone sees something like that this late in the year, that swing might have helped Nick Senzel a tremendous amount,” Serrano said. “He did it at the right time. He’s stepping up for the Vols at the right time.”

Senzel said that despite his elite talent, Puk is “just another guy.”

“At this point in the year you’re just trying to win ball games,” Senzel said. “That’s how I’ve taken this process, just winning games. It’s never been about me, it’s never been about A.J. Puk, it’s about the group of guys you have around each other.”

Serrano added that Senzel let Puk supply the power, allowing him to take an easy swing.

“I think that’s what guys need to learn to do,” Serrano said. “I made a comment to Benito (Santiago) that he was trying to swing to the speed of the pitch. You allow the pitcher to supply the power. I don’t think Nick swung real hard, he just had a good swing on it and the ball carried. That was a special home run that he hit.”

The Bottom Line

Tennessee caught Puk on a subpar day. The Florida junior did not locate his pitches well. He labored through the first inning, throwing 36 pitches, and never settled down. After just 3.1 innings, Puk had thrown 91 pitches.

Tennessee deserves credit for capitalizing off of Puk’s mistakes. UT’s hitters weren’t over-swinging against 96-97 mph fastballs, but seemed to be comfortable at the plate. Given where this team sits in the SEC standings, their ability to show composure at the plate was impressive.

The Zach Warren and Andy Cox duo was stellar again on the mound. Warren gave up two earned runs in 5.1 innings, allowing seven hits. Cox closed the door well, giving up just two hits and recording two strikeouts in his 3.2 innings of work. When that duo performs like they did Saturday, Tennessee is a tough team to beat.

Sunday’s rubber match will begin at 2 p.m. ET from Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The Vols will likely go with Hunter Martin or Alex Harper-Cook on the mound to face Florida’s Alex Faedo (8-1, 3.32 ERA).

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