With a pivotal 8-7 win over Florida on Saturday afternoon, No. 24 Tennessee is headed to the SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover, Alabama for the first time since 2016.
The win also secured a winning record in games against SEC East opponents for the first time since 2010. With one game left, Tennessee is 8-6 against its opponents in the eastern division of the conference.
“They compete every day,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said of his team following the game. “It was as intense of a game as you could imagine.”
Vitello and his squad can thank freshman Camden Sewell for coming out of the rivalry game on top.
The Cleveland, Tennessee native recorded his first career save as he pitched back-to-back scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth innings to close out the game. Sewell pitched a perfect eighth inning, but he ran into trouble in the ninth when Florida picked up two base hits. Despite runners on first and second with two outs and a full count, Sewell was able to force Kendrick Calilao to fly out to left field to end the game.
“He grew up in a household of Florida Gator fans,” Vitello said of Sewell. “He had the loss last Sunday which was a tough blow for us, and that was his next time on the mound.”
In a back-and-forth affair, Tennessee (34-17, 11-15 SEC) got things going in the top of the first inning on a solo home run from Andre Lipcius. His team-leading 14th home run of the season gave the Vols an early 1-0 lead.
The lead didn’t last long, though, as Florida (30-22, 10-16 SEC) shortstop Brady McConnell jumped on the first pitch Garrett Crochet threw and hit a solo home-run to tie the game at 1-1.
Crochet, who started for Tennessee, had an up-and-down outing. The big lefty lasted 6.1 innings, improving to 4-3 on the season, but allowed seven runs on seven hits. He struck out six and walked two on 90 pitches.
Following McConnell’s lead-off home run, Crochet worked through the rest of the first, second, and the third innings without allowing the Gators to push a run across. It wasn’t until the bottom of the fourth that Florida took a 3-1 lead on a two-run single from Calilao.
As has been the case through the first two games of the series, Tennessee quickly responded a half inning later.
In the fifth, Ricky Martinez sparked a five-run inning with a lead-off single. Martinez then advanced to third on a wild pitch before Justin Ammons drove in the Tennessee shortstop on an RBI single.
Following a Florida pitching change, from Specht to Leftwich, Jay Charleston laid down a beautiful bunt and beat it out for a base hit as Ammons reached second. Following a wild pitch, both runners advance to scoring position with Lipcius at the plate. Once again, Tennessee’s third baseman came through, knocking a two-run single through the left side to give the Vols a 4-3 lead.
With Lipcius standing on first after driving in his second and third run of the game, Alerick Soularie hit a towering two-run homer to left-center to give Tennessee a 6-3 lead. Soularie’s home run was his 11th of the season.
Tennessee would then tack on insurance runs in both the sixth and seventh innings, which would prove to be much-needed as Florida combined to score four runs in the same innings.
After Ammons drove in his second run of the game in the top of the sixth on an RBI single to give the Vols a 7-3 lead, Tennessee native Will Dalton hit a two-run home run in the bottom half of the inning for the Gators.
In the seventh, UT tacked on a run off the bat of Martinez, who hit an RBI single to shortstop. As it did an inning before, Florida scored two runs in the bottom of the inning to cut the Tennessee lead to just one run. McConnell hit his second home run of the game, a solo shot, and Brady Smith hit an RBI double.
On Smith’s double, Florida designated hitter Nelson Maldonado tripped going around third, preventing him from scoring and tying the game. Maldonado had reached on a single in the at-bat before Smith’s and would have scored with ease. Instead, Maldonado was gunned down at the plate in the next at-bat when Lipcius made a tremendous stop at third and threw home to prevent the Gators from tying the game.
In addition to Lipcius’ “web gem,” the junior finished the day 4-for-5 at the plate with a home run, three RBI, two runs scored, and two doubles. Lipcius now has 50 RBI on the season and is the first UT player to drive in 50-plus runs in a season since Nick Senzel (59), Vincent Jackson (57), and Jordan Rodgers (56) all did it in 2016.
“The thing with Andre is he’s real sick,” Vitello said. “He was really sick before the game.
“We just brought up Michael Jordan in game six against the Jazz to him that, ‘if you go out and play, it might make you feel better.’ I don’t know he did it, but I guess it did kind of make him better.”
Tennessee and Florida will square off in the series finale and the pivotal rubber match on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET. RHP Zach Linginfelter is scheduled to start for the Vols.