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Tennessee Baseball Picks Up Big Win Over No. 2 Georgia

(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

Max Ferguson is a winner.

According to Tennessee baseball coach Tony Vitello, that is.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the freshman first baseman stepped to the plate with two outs and runners on second and third in the midst of a scoreless ball game with No. 2 Georgia. Ferguson then hit a ball between the Bulldogs’ first and second baseman, hustled down the line, and was ruled safe as he just beat out the throw to first. Ferguson’s hustle on the play not only allowed Zach Daniels to score from third, but it also allowed Jay Charleston to score from second.

“The guy’s a winner,” Vitello said of Ferguson after the game. “(Ferguson) had two strikes on him, so the deal is put the ball in play and hustle, and that’s exactly what he did.

“The kid is a winner, and it was a winning play.”

It would prove to be the difference in Tennessee’s 2-0 win over the second-ranked team in the country.  The win marked an NCAA-best seventh shutout of the year for the Vols.

“Just trying to make a play, trying to make something happen,” Ferguson said of his play after the game. “I hit that ball, it obviously wasn’t what I wanted to do, but hustling it out is what we preach. I saw the first baseman vacate, so I figured I was going to beat it out.”

A half-inning later, it was Alerick Soularie’s turn to make a winning play. With runners on first and second and one out, Tennessee’s left fielder made a diving catch to preserve the lead. If Soularie doesn’t make the catch, Georgia (28-7, 9-4 SEC) likely ties the game at 2-2.

“The big thing is win, win something,” Vitello said. “We just needed to win a pitch, maybe put the ball in play, just play defense.

“We were able to win enough tonight to put us in a position to win.”

Due to a rare Thursday night SEC match-up, Garrett Crochet received the start for Tennessee (25-10, 5-8 SEC). In his first start of the season, the sophomore struck out six in 5.0 scoreless innings. Though the lefty allowed seven hits, he scattered them throughout his outing and contributed to Georgia hitting 3-of-19 with runners on base.

“I felt good, just trying to get my team as far as I could,” Crochet said. “I was falling behind in the count early in the inning, and then I went into more of an attack mode.”

Crochet worked out of jams in the first, second, and third innings to keep the game scoreless.

“We’ve asked that kid (Crochet) to do anything and everything for us,” Vitello stated. “To be the guy that takes the blame when we lose, to take credit when we win, sometimes pitch great and not get the credit he deserves.”

Andrew Schultz (W, 1-0) replaced Crochet on the mound and pitched two scoreless innings. Schultz allowed just one hit as he earned his first win of the season and the second of his career. The junior struck out two batters.

Following Schultz’s appearance, Redmond Walsh entered in relief and pitched two scoreless innings to pick up his fifth save of the season. The sophomore struck out two and allowed just one hit as he closed out the Bulldogs.

“For tonight, you want to enjoy the night and take it for what it’s worth,” Vitello said. “We needed a conference win because we’re coming off a conference loss. To beat a team that’s as good as they are really means you can beat any team in the country.”

Emerson Hancock (L, 6-2) received the start for the Dawgs and threw a complete game. Hancock allowed two runs on five hits while tallying nine strikeouts.

Game two between Tennessee and No. 2 Georgia is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday night. RHP Garrett Stallings (5-2, 2.19 ERA) is expected to start for the Vols while LHP CJ Smith (3-1, 2.51 ERA) will receive the ball for the Bulldogs.

“They’re all big, but the goal of every weekend is to win the series,” Vitello said. “We’re in a game of percentages, and tonight we increased those percentages of winning the series.”

Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt is expected to throw out the first pitch a night after Tennessee Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer threw out the first pitch.

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