Austin Peay drew first blood, but No. 24 Tennessee walked away from Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Tuesday evening as the victor.
Following a two-run home run from Austin Peay first baseman Parker Phillips – his 20th homer of the season – Tennessee scored nine unanswered runs to take down the Governors 9-2.
“We needed that,” coach Tony Vitello said following the game. “Our guys put a stop to that with some will.”
The Vols immediately responded to Phillips’ homer in the bottom of the first inning. After a single from Christian Scott and a double off the wall in center from Andre Lipcius, Alerick Soularie hit a two-run single through the left side to tie the game at 2-2.
In the third inning, Tennessee (33-16) would break the game wide open with five runs. Sebastian Martinez started the third inning on the mound for Austin Peay (26-20) after starter Tyler Thompson pitched the first two innings. Martinez walked the first three batters of the inning to load the bases, causing Nolan Monaghan to enter in relief.
But Monaghan couldn’t find the strike zone either, walking the first two batters he faced to bring in two runs. Monaghan then allowed back-to-back sacrifice flies to Pete Derkay and Landon Gray to push the Tennessee lead to 6-2. Ricky Martinez would drive in the final run of the inning on an RBI double to make it 7-2.
UT would tack on its final runs of the game in the fourth and sixth innings, respectively. In the fourth, Evan Russell hit an RBI double. Andre Lipcius hit his team-leading 13th home run of the season in the sixth inning.
Lipcius finished the afternoon 2-for-2 with a home run, two walks, a double, an RBI, and four runs scored.
The Governors would tack on two runs in the ninth inning on an RBI single from Matt Joslin and a sacrifice fly from Gino Avros.
Here are a couple of takeaways from Tennessee’s midweek win over in-state foe Austin Peay.
Will Heflin Deals
Senior right-hander Will Neely received the start for Tennessee, but it was junior left-hander Will Heflin that calmed the early Austin Peay storm.
Neely wasn’t in a groove against the Governors, throwing 31 pitches in 1.1 innings of work. He allowed two runs on four hits while serving up a mammoth home run to Phillips three batters into the game.
“In the middle (of the plate) a little too much,” Vitello said of Neely. “He always throws strikes, which we appreciate, but we need to sell out a little more at the end of the year.”
Heflin entered in relief midway through the second inning with a runner on second, and though he hit the first batter, the lefty induced an inning-ending double play to get out of the jam. It was smooth-sailing from that point on.
The Morristown, Tennessee native would turn in a strong 3.1 innings of scoreless work. Heflin allowed just two hits and didn’t give up a walk. Of his 36 pitches, 25 were strikes.
“He was huge,” Vitello said of Heflin. “To do what he did, was awesome.”
Heflin is now has a 2.82 ERA on the season. In 22.1 innings of work, he’s allowed seven runs on 19 hits and has struck out 22 batters. Heflin has only allowed nine walks, and after Tuesday’s outing, could see more work moving forward.
“I think so,” Vitello responded when asked if Heflin could see more innings the remainder of the season. “He’s always on standby. As many games as he’s come in, he’s probably had as many games where he’s down in the bullpen for most of it.”
Christian Scott received the start on Tuesday night for junior Jay Charleston, who has been struggling of late and is now hitting .214 on the season.
In his fifth start of the season, Scott was 1-for-4 at the plate and scored two runs and drew a walk. Following his single in the first inning, the true freshman is now hitting .409 on the season in 14 appearances.
“He did what you do when the coaching staff gives you an opportunity,” Vitello said of Scott. “He took it and ran with it.”
Scott received a start in the series finale at Arkansas a week and a half ago, but he was 0-for-2 at the plate. Tuesday night was his first action since.
“We’ll use him anyway we need to now,” Vitello said “He’s deserving of it, but we also trust our experienced guys. We’ll go with what we think is best.”
Vitello relied on “Johnny Wholestaff” to get through Tuesday night’s game.
Following Neely and Heflin on the mound, Andrew Schultz made an appearance. The hard-throwing righty pitched 1.1 innings and struck out two of the four batters he faced.
Tanner Kohlhepp followed Schultz on the mound, but he walked the first two batters he faced and was pulled for senior Richard Jackson. Entering with runners on first and second and no outs, Jackson struck out three-consecutive Governors to end the threat.
Jackson and freshman Chase Silseth combined to pitch a scoreless eighth inning. Silseth would strike out one of the two batters he faced.
Daniel Vasquez was tasked with the ninth inning, but after allowing a single and a double to lead off the inning, Vitello pulled the junior for Chase Wallace. The sophomore right-hander would close out the game.
Tennessee now turns its attention to Florida.
The Vols will travel to Gainesville this weekend for a three-game series with the Gators (29-21, 9-15 SEC) beginning on Friday night. First pitch of game one is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET. Game two of the series will begin at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday while the series finale will be held at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.
“You always get excited about going on the road,” Vitello said. “I feel real good.”
Tennessee currently sits in fourth place in the SEC East standings with a 10-14 conference record. Florida sits 1.0 game back of the Vols in fifth place. UT is 2.5 games back of third-place Missouri.
“We have a monstrous opportunity to impress people who need to be impressed,” Vitello said.