No. 18 Tennessee traveled to Lexington over the weekend and promptly swept the Kentucky Wildcats in dominating fashion.
The Vols opened the series with a 4-2 win thanks to two eighth inning home runs from Al Soularie and Pete Derkay. With his team down 2-1, Soularie launched a moonshot over the left field fence that hit off the light pole to give UT a 3-2 lead. Later in the inning, Derkay launched his own mammoth home run over the right field fence to extend the Vols’ lead to two and give them the 4-2 victory.
On Friday, Tennessee blew past the Cats, winning 16-1. Nine different Vols recorded a hit, and seven of them drove in a run as Tony Vitello secured his first SEC road-series win as head coach. The margin of victory in the game (15) was the biggest in an SEC game for the Vols since they blew out Georgia 25-5 in 2010.
Tennessee completed the sweep on Saturday afternoon with an 8-2 win. The game turned into a pitcher’s duel early on between Zach Linginfelter and Zach Thomas, but the Vols scored four runs apiece in both the sixth and eighth innings to put the series away.
These were the biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s first sweep of Kentucky since 2004.
Pitching continues to dominate
Tennessee may have outscored Kentucky on the weekend, but the pitching staff continues to be the biggest story.
After allowing the Cats to score just five runs all weekend, the Vols’ pitching staff has now held opponents to two or fewer runs in eight of the last 10 games. As you would expect, Tennessee has won all eight of those games.
On the season, the pitching staff has allowed the fewest runs (123) in the SEC. Tennessee’s team ERA of 2.74 and opponent batting average of .212 both rank second in the conference.
Garrett Stallings (7-2, 1.82 ERA) continues to lead the charge for the pitching staff. The junior right-hander earned his seventh win of the season on Friday night against Kentucky, which is the second-most in the SEC. Stallings struck out eight batters, setting a new career-high for an SEC game. He didn’t walk a batter and allowed just one run.
In the series opener, sophomore Garrett Crochet (3-2, 2.45 ERA) started his second game of the season and lasted 6.2 innings. Crochet wasn’t credited for the win, but the left-hander allowed just two runs on six hits. He struck out eight and only allowed two walks. Though Crochet began the season in the bullpen, it appears he has claimed himself a spot in the rotation for good following Will Neely’s injury.
Linginfelter (6-4, 3.91 ERA) received the start on Saturday as the Vols broke out the brooms, and he looked the best he has in quite some time. The junior improved to 6-4 on the season after allowing just two runs on five hits. While command has plagued him at times this season, Linginfelter didn’t allow a walk. He struck out four.
Bullpen shuts the door
Not only were the starting pitchers dominant in Lexington, but so was the bullpen.
In 8.0 innings of action, Tennessee pitching coach Frank Anderson’s pen didn’t allow a single run. Andrew Schultz, Redmond Walsh, Will Neely, and Camden Sewell combined to strike out six Kentucky batters and allow just two hits.
Schultz (2-0, 2.04 ERA) picked up win No. 2 on the season on Thursday night when he entered in the seventh inning and proceeded to pitch 1.2 scoreless innings. He allowed one hit and a walk, but he picked up a strikeout as well.
Walsh (0-0, 0.35 ERA) was the only reliever to see action twice over the weekend. He entered the game with a runner on second and one out in the ninth, but he quickly ended the Kentucky rally as he earned his team-high seventh save of the season. Walsh also pitched the final two innings of Saturday’s winning. He didn’t allow a run and struck out three.
The senior, Neely pitched two scoreless innings in the blowout win on Friday. He didn’t allow a hit.
Sewell, the freshman, entered in a tough spot during the series finale. Coming in during the seventh inning after Linginfelter allowed a double to lead off the inning, Sewell induced a pop out and then caught the runner stealing who hit the double. He then picked up a strikeout to end the inning.
Hot bats in cold weather
The temperature may have been cold in Lexington, but the bats were hot all weekend.
Tennessee outscored Kentucky 28-5 over the course of the series as 11 different players drove in runs. The Vols’ 16 runs scored in Friday’s win were the most the program has scored in an SEC game since 2010 when UT beat Georgia 25-5. In the rout, nine different players recorded a hit, and seven different players drove in a run.
Soularie led the charge with the bats, hitting his team-high 10th home run of the season in Thursday night’s game. His 10 home runs are the most a Vol has hit in a season since current Detroit Tiger Christin Stewart had 15 in 2015.
Tennessee recorded 27 hits to produce its 28 runs. Ricky Martinez, Connor Pavolony, Jake Rucker, Evan Russell, and Soularie all produced multi-hit games during the series.