Following an impressive weekend series win over South Carolina, Tennessee fell to East Tennessee State 6-5 in its lone mid-week game.
The Vols (20-6) jumped on ETSU (18-5) early, but they couldn’t hold on to their lead.
Designated hitter Evan Russell clobbered a three-run homer over the left field fence in the bottom of the first inning, giving Tennessee a quick 3-0 lead. Andre Lipcius sparked the inning, hitting a two-out double to left. Al Soularie then walked to place runners on first and second. Russell then stepped to the plate and hit his third home run of the season.
“A middle-in fastball, what I enjoy best,” Russell said following the win. “I’ve been struggling here recently, and I had a good prep before the game, trying to hit the ball the other way, seeing the ball deep. He gave me a good pitch to hit, and I executed on it.”
Will Heflin received the start for Tennessee. The left-hander pitched just one inning and faced four batters. Heflin allowed one hit, but he worked around it to pitch a scoreless inning.
Freshman Chase Silseth was next in line on a day in which Tony Vitello wanted several arms to receive work. Unfortunately for Vitello, Silseth’s outing wasn’t as smooth as Heflin’s.
With one out, Silseth walked ETSU’s Colby Emmertz and then allowed back-to-back singles to Noah Hill and David Beam which loaded the bases. Four pitches later, Bucs left fielder Ethan Shelton hit a grand slam to give ETSU a 4-3 lead in the second inning.
“With a 3-0 lead with our pitching staff, you’d like to think we were in good shape,” Vitello said following the game. “They’re very well-coached and competitive, and they wanna come in here and rip the jerseys off our back.”
Silseth wouldn’t making it out of the inning, recording just one out. The right-hander allowed four runs, gave up three hits, and walked one.
“He wasn’t attacking,” Vitello said of Silseth. “You need to be starving to be out on that mound and competition. For whatever reason, that wasn’t there.
“The ball will usually tell you what’s going on. The ball wasn’t going in the zone, it wasn’t firm and one of them went over the fence.”
Sophomore Sean Hunley would come in for Silseth and pitch the Vols out of the jam. Although Hunley wasn’t all that crisp, he managed to hold the game at bay while Tennessee’s offense struggled at the plate.
Outside of a sac fly from ETSU’s Jake Lyle to extend the Bucs’ lead to 6-3, Hunley pitched 4.2 innings, allowing two runs. The right-hander gave up five hits, walked one, and struck out two batters.
Matthew Mercer received the start for the Bucs, and after giving up the home run to Russell in the first inning, Trey Oglesby entered in relief. The freshman right-hander retired 14 straight batters as Tennessee’s offense struggled to get anything going.
It wouldn’t be until the eighth inning that Tennessee’s bats would wake up.
Trailing by two runs, Connor Pavolony singled to lead off the inning. Justin Ammons then doubled off the centerfield wall to put runners on second and third with no outs. With runners in scoring position, Jay Charleston hit an RBI groundout followed by an RBI single from Max Ferguson to cut ETSU’s lead to one.
As he did in the first inning, Russell sparked the offense in the bottom of the ninth. The sophomore drew a leadoff walk allowing Zach Daniels to pinch run for him. Ricky Martinez then laid down a beautiful bunt to advance Daniels to second, and after ETSU threw a wild pitch, Daniels advanced to third.
With the tying run standing on third and just one out, freshman Jake Rucker stepped to the plate. Rucker hit a ground ball to shortstop, causing Daniels to take off for home. Gilbert – ETSU’s shortstop – fired the ball home to put Daniel in a pickle, and ultimately, pick up out No. 2 of the inning.
In the middle of that, Rucker managed to get himself into a pickle between second and third, too. In an attempt to scamper back to second, Rucker was tagged out to end the game.
“The team that competed for nine innings better and performed better won the game,” Vitello said. “Maybe after taking one on the chin, we do that a little less in the future.”
Tennessee now turns its attention to No. 5 Vanderbilt. The Vols and Commodores will play a three-game series beginning on Friday in Nashville.
“It’s an in-state rivalry,” Russell said of Vanderbilt. “We know that Vandy is good, but we’re not scared of anybody.”