On Saturday, it was the arm of freshman Camden Sewell that led Tennessee to victory. In the series finale on Sunday, it was the bat of Ricky Martinez and the arm of Sean Hunley that led Tennessee to a 5-4 win over the Gators.
Thanks to the contributions from the two surprising heroes, the Vols sit in prime position to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament heading into the final week of the regular season.
Tennessee (35-17, 12-15 SEC) trailed for most of the game against Florida (30-23, 10-17 SEC) despite striking first on a solo home run from Evan Russell in the top of the second inning.
An inning later, Florida knotted the game at 1-1 following an RBI groundout off the bat of Brady McConnell. Two innings later, Florida scored three runs on four hits to take a 4-1 lead off Tennessee starter Zach Linginfelter.
Making his 13th start of the season, Linginfelter allowed just one run through the first four innings. In the Gators’ three-run fourth inning, the right-hander served up an RBI single and back-to-back home runs to McConnell and Austin Langworthy. Richard Jackson (W, 1-0) would relieve Linginfelter and strike out Nelson Maldonado to end the threat.
Linginfelter finished the afternoon having pitched 5.2 innings and earned a no-decision. The junior struck out six and walked one on 80 pitches.
Following Florida’s big fifth inning, Tennessee’s offense continued to struggle at the plate. In the sixth, the Vols had runners on first and second but couldn’t bring them around to score.
An inning later, with runners on first and second once again following a Jake Rucker double and Pete Derkay walk, Martinez slugged a three-run home run into the left field bleachers to tie the game at 4-4. It was Martinez’s first home run of the season.
“He’s stung a few and hasn’t caught a break,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said of Martinez’s home run. “It wasn’t a wall-scraper either, it was out on a line.
“The guys were fired up. I mean, they were excited we tied it up, but they all knew he was kind of wanting one. They joke about it in the dugout, and it was pretty cool to see the reaction of his teammates.”
UT wasn’t finished in the seventh inning, however. Following Martinez’s first home run as a Vol, Connor Pavolony singled down the left field line, and Justin Ammons doubled to the right-center gap. Jay Charleston then stepped to the plate and hit a ground ball to second base that allowed Pavolony to score the go-ahead run and give Tennessee a 5-4 lead.
Sean Hunley made his way to the mound out of the bullpen after Tennessee’s offensive outburst. Hunley dominated the final three innings, allowing just one hit as he picked up his first save of the season. He struck out two Gators in the process.
“Sean’s job was to come in and get three outs for us and then we’d see,” Vitello said. “He was throwing the ball so well, we rolled with him and left a few other guys in the bullpen.”
With Sunday’s win in the bag, Tennessee has now won back-to-back series in Gainesville. The Vols also took two of three from the Gators last season. After winning three SEC road games a season ago, Tennessee has picked up six conference wins on the road this season.
“Our guys are tough,” Vitello said of playing on the road. “We’ve been in about every game.”
The Vols will now return home to face Tennessee Tech (22-28) on Tuesday afternoon at 6 p.m. Tennessee will then face No. 14 Ole Miss (32-20, 15-12 SEC) in a three-game series to end the regular season beginning on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.