Tennessee’s bats were dead through four innings at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
That is, until Vols’ third baseman Andre Lipcius crushed a grand slam over the left field wall. in the fifth inning. Liberty (5-3) had scored the first run of the game in the first inning, but Lipcius’ first home run of the season gave Tennessee a 4-1 lead en route to a 7-1 victory over the Flames.
“It felt great, just being able to help my team,” Lipcius said following the game. “I was sitting back on a changeup because in the previous at-bats he had thrown a lot of changeups in the count.”
Lipcius would finish 2-for-4 at the plate with a home run, four RBI, and two runs scored.
“A great swing he (Lipcius) put on that ball, it was fun to see,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “He’s such a dynamic and fun kid, and he’s confident.
“He loves to play, and even in those early games where he wasn’t swinging it great, he still shows up every day. … You can expect to get the same attitude and effort and joy out of him from playing the game.”
The fifth inning grand slam sparked the offense for Tennessee (8-0). Through the first four innings, the Vols recorded just three hits. In the next four innings, Tennessee recorded six hits that resulted in seven runs.
In the sixth inning, designated hitter Pete Derkay led off the inning with a single. Al Soularie came on to pinch run for Derkay and immediately advanced to second on a wild pitch. Short stop Ricky Martinez then singled to right field to drive in Soularie from third, who tagged up on a fly ball to right.
Martinez finished 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI, two runs scored, and a stolen base.
Tennessee would tack on two more runs in the sixth thanks to the bat of right fielder Justin Ammons. Upon Martinez picking up his third hit of the game, the junior stole second as Luc Lipcius was in the process of drawing a walk. After Martinez and L. Lipcius advanced to third and second, respectively, on a wild pitch, Ammons slugged a two-out, two-run double to left field.
Ammons’ third hit of the game extended the Vols’ lead to 7-1. The junior would finish 3-for-5 at the plate with two runs driven in and a run scored.
“I felt pretty good,” Ammons said. “The preparation for the game today was pretty spot on, and it was just a good day at the field.”
While the bats were coming to life at the plate, Sean Hunley (2-0, 0.00 ERA) was settling in on the mound. In his second start of the season, the right-hander was jittery early on.
In the first inning, Hunley walked two Liberty batters. The walks were then compounded by a fielding error on A. Lipcius and a fielder’s choice that allowed Flames’ left fielder Brandon Rohrer to advance to third. Rohrer then scored on a sacrifice fly to left from Drew Baughman.
“It was incredibly fortunate,” Vitello said. “I don’t think there’s any other word than lucky for us in that first inning.”
Though the run wasn’t earned, it would be the only run Hunley and the Vols allowed all game. Hunley pitched six innings, allowing two hits, walking three, and striking out one.
“He didn’t have his best stuff, was kind of messy early,” Vitello said of Hunley. “He kind of lulls you to sleep and now we know him, but last year, games like this were frustrating.
“Your job as a starting pitcher – they call it a quality start in the big leagues – is to just give your team a chance to win. He’s going to give us five or more innings or more each time out and give us a chance to win, and that’s kind of why I like to come to the park on Tuesdays.”
In relief for Tennessee, Andrew Schultz, Chase Silseth, Will Heflin, and Richard Jackson combined to pitch three shutout innings. The four arms out of the pen allowed just one hit, struck out four, and walked one.
After combining for seven runs in the fifth and sixth inning, Tennessee wouldn’t tack on any more runs. On the day, the Vols recorded nine hits.
For Liberty, left-hander Mason Meyer (1-2, 8.31 ERA) picked up the loss. The Flames tallied just three hits on the afternoon.
“I thought Liberty was arguably our best opponent to this date,” Vitello said. “Liberty is good if you look at what they have done this far.”
Tennessee now turns its attention to Middle Tennessee State, who will be welcomed to Lindsey Nelson Stadium at 4:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday afternoon. Freshman right-hander Camden Sewell is expected to receive the start for the Vols on the mound.
“It’s an in-state rival,” Vitello said. “I know those pitchers are going to be competitive, and they’re going to be very, very well-coached.
“Every time he (Sewell) has the ball in his hand, I’m confident. I think as highly of him as anybody on this campus.”