No. 22 Tennessee defeated Kentucky 8-2 on Saturday afternoon in Lexington to sweep the Cats in a three-game series.
The series sweep marks the first time since 2004 that the Vols have swept the Wildcats, and it’s the first time since 201o the Vols swept an SEC East opponent on the road. That time, it was Georgia. This weekend’s sweep the first SEC sweep under second-year head coach Tony Vitello.
“It’s tough to string together three consecutive days of baseball, especially when your competition is strong,” Vitello said of the sweep. “A lot of positives come out of this deal.”
Tennessee’s (30-11, 9-9 SEC) win on Saturday marked it 30th win of the season. It’s the first time the Vols have won 30 games in a season since 2014 when Dave Serrano’s team finished 31-23. UT reaches the 30-win mark in just 41 games. The last time UT reached the mark so quickly was in 2004 when the Vols won 30 out of their first 39 games. That Tennessee team reached the NCAA Tournament.
“They are numbers that have set this group apart from others before them,” Vitello stated. “They’ve been really good about difficult circumstances, positive circumstances, and they continue to impress me. They’ve made it fun every day to come to work.”
Zach Linginfelter (W, 6-4) received the start for Tennessee in game three against Kentucky. The junior right-hander allowed just two runs on five hits in 6.0 innings pitched. Linginfelter struck out four and despite having command issues at times this season, didn’t allow a walk.
“That (pitching) leads the way for our club on the field,” Vitello said. “It had a special flare to it this weekend because Zach Linginfelter struggled last weekend, came out and shut down an aggressive, physical club.
“That answer back mentality is something he (Linginfelter) has had all year long for us.”
With Linginfelter dominating for Tennessee, Kentucky starter Zack Thompson was dominating for the Cats as well. The left-hander struck out nine, but in the sixth inning, things began to unravel. All nine hitters hit in the inning, as Thompson hit three batters and allowed two hits.
Tennessee would score four runs in the inning off of Thompson’s struggles. With the bases loaded, Andre Lipcius hit an RBI groundout, and Al Soularie hit a two-run double to give the Vols a 3-0 lead. Evan Russell then hit an RBI single to tack on the final run of the inning.
“That was scrappy by our guys,” Vitello said of the four-run sixth inning. “That was an inning of just get it done because we clearly weren’t hitting the guy (Thompson). We needed to mix it up, somehow, some way.”
Kentucky would immediately respond in the bottom of the sixth with two runs of its own to cut Tennessee’s lead to 4-2. Zeke Lewis and Ryan Shinn both hit solo home runs in the inning.
Camden Sewell would relieve Linginfelter on the mound following the Cats’ outburst. The freshman pitched a scoreless seventh inning despite entering with a man on second. Sewell walked one and struck out one.
The Vols tacked on four runs in the eight to extend their lead to 8-2 and put the game away. Jake Rucker hit drove in a run on an RBI groundout and Justin Ammons hit a single to left-center, driving in two runs. Ammons would eventually score on a wild pitch.
Tennessee’s sweep marks its third sweep of the season. The Vols also swept Appalachian State and Indiana earlier this season.
The Vols won the first game of the series on Thursday by a score of 4-2 thanks to two eighth inning home runs that propelled UT ahead of the Wildcats. Tennessee dominated Kentucky on Friday night, blasting past the Cats 16-1.
UT will return home on Tuesday afternoon to face Gardner-Webb before traveling to Fayetteville, Arkansas next weekend for a three-game series with No. 10 Arkansas.
“They’ve already beat an SEC team in South Carolina on a Tuesday,” Vitello said of Gardner-Webb. “We’ve got some good arms in addition to the ones we used this weekend so for me, the focus is to get those guys some work.”