No. 23 Tennessee couldn’t have asked for a better start to its series finale with No. 24 Missouri on Sunday.
In the top of the first, starter Zach Linginfelter shut down the top of the Tigers’ lineup 1-2-3, recording two outs via strikeout.
Then, in the bottom of the first, the Vols struck for four runs. With two outs, Andre Lipcius singled to center and after Alerick Soularie hit a double to left, the Vols had runners on second and third. Evan Russell then hit a hard ground ball to third, and Mizzou third baseman Paul Gomez misfired to first, allowing Soularie and Lipcius to score.
Russell then scored on an RBI double off the bat of freshman Jake Rucker. A batter later, Rucker scored on an RBI single from Pete Derkay to give Tennessee a 4-0 lead.
“They were great and came out ready to play,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said of his team following the game. “I certainly think the position players and the dugout were in the game all nine innings.”
Missouri starting pitcher Jordan Gubelman’s day would only last one inning. Jacob Cantleberry — Friday night’s starter — began the second inning, but the lefty only last two-thirds of an inning.
Tennessee (32-16, 10-14 SEC) scored three runs on three hits off Cantleberry. Ricky Martinez doubled to lead-off the second and then advanced to third on a passed ball. Justin Ammons would draw a four-pitch walk to set up runners on the corners for Lipcius.
The Vols’ third baseman smashed a three-run home run to break the game wide open, 7-0. Lipcius’ homer was his team-leading 12th of the season.
“We came out well, but we needed to keep that focus the whole game,” Lipcius said. “We leveled off, and we’ve done that in that past. People got too comfortable.”
Everything seemed to be going according to plan. That is, until the top of the third inning.
Despite working a perfect first and second inning, Linginfelter couldn’t make it out of the third frame.
“He started thinking his way through everything,” Vitello said of Linginfelter’s struggles. “The tempo was brutal.”
Sparked by three walks, Mizzou (33-16-1, 12-11-1 SEC) tagged Linginfelter for six runs on three hits. Connor Brumfield tripled down the right field line to cut the Tennessee lead to five. Following a sac fly from Chris Cornelius and a two-run single from Chad McDaniel that deflected off the glove of Rucker, the Vols led by just two.
With McDaniel on first, freshman Camden Sewell (L, 6-4) entered in relief of Linginfelter. The very first pitch out of Sewell’s hand resulted in a two-run home run off the bat of Paul Gomez to tie the game at 7-7.
“They came out and did what they needed to do to have a great start, but we didn’t finish,” Vitello said.
Both teams combined to score 14 runs in the first three innings. Neither team would score again until the bottom of the seventh as Sewell settled in on the mound for the Vols, and Art Joven did so for Missouri as well.
In relief of Joven, Konnor Ash worked himself into trouble in the seventh. Ash hit Derkay, walked Connor Pavolony, and walked Martinez to load the bases with two outs.
Missouri’s ace, TJ Sikkema, would relieve Ash on the mound after only throwing 34 pitches during Saturday’s game before his day came to an end due to a two hour and six minute rain delay. Sikkema was brought on to face Ammons, who he walked with the bases loaded to give Tennessee an 8-7 lead.
“You would think that’s a pretty big kick in the gut, but I thought our guys kept playing,” Vitello said of blowing the seven run lead. “Everyone was still playing.”
Sewell’s first pitch of the afternoon resulted in a two-run home run for Gomez. Fast forward to the eighth inning, and Sewell’s last pitch of the afternoon resulted in Gomez’s second two-run homer of the day.
Gomez finish the afternoon 2-for-4 with four RBI.
“Camden (Sewell) was throwing the ball pretty dang good after the home run,” Vitello said. “But, we left (Linginfelter) in there too long and we left Camden in there too long.”
Sean Hunley entered in relief for Sewell. The right-hander could only pick up one out which came on a sacrifice fly from Brumfield that produced Missouri’s 10th and final run of the day.
The Vols were unable to muster any offense in the eighth or ninth inning. Each frame, the Vols were set down 1-2-3.
Tennessee now turns its attention to a midweek game with Austin Peay (26-19). First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
The Vols will then travel to Gainesville to battle Florida (28-21, 9-15 SEC) in a three-game series beginning on Friday night.