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Vols Give Gutsy Effort, but Season Ends in Regional Final

(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

After surviving a thriller against Liberty earlier in the day, Tennessee was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament with a 5-2 loss to North Carolina on Sunday evening.

Zach Linginfelter (L, 6-6) received the start for the Vols and couldn’t make it out of the first inning. The right-hander allowed four runs on two walks and four hits. It would prove to be the difference in the game.

En route to his sixth loss of the season, Linginfelter retired the first batter of the game, but then he gave up back-to-back singles. After a walk, the bases were loaded with one out.

North Carolina’s Ashton McGee then singled up the middle to drive in two runs and put the Tar Heels on the board. The next Carolina hitter, Dylan Harris, singled through the right side to bring in another run. Two wild pitches later, McGee scored to extend the North Carolina lead to 4-0.

With runners on the corners and two outs, Will Heflin relieved Linginfelter on the mound and got Tennessee out of the jam with a strikeout.

Heflin calmed the storm for the Vols after a soul-sucking first inning. The junior left-hander pitched 3.0 scoreless innings to allow Tennessee to slowly creep back into the game. Heflin finished with three strikeouts. He allowed just one hit and one run.

The Vols would get on the board in the bottom of the second when Alerick Soularie would score on a wild pitch. Soularie walked to lead off the inning, and after advancing to second on a wild pitch, the sophomore outfielder made his way to third on a fly ball to center off the bat of Evan Russell.

Soularie would also manufacture Tennessee’s second, and final, run of the game.

In the fourth, Jay Charleston led off the inning with a single up the middle. Charleston then stole his 41st base of the season and came around to score on a Soularie single. Soularie’s lone RBI on the afternoon cut North Carolina’s lead to 4-2.

After Will Heflin calmed the storm for Tennessee, it was Andrew Schultz’s turn. The junior proceeded to pitch 2.0 innings, and though he gave up four walks, Schultz gave up just one run on one hit.

In the sixth, Schultz worked himself into trouble by loading the bases on back-to-back walks and a single. Following a walk to bring in North Carolina’s fifth run of the game, senior Richard Jackson entered in relief and ended the Tar Heel threat with a strike out.

Jackson was arguably the most impressive Tennessee reliever on the evening. The right-hander didn’t allow a run in 3.1 innings of work and gave up just one hit. In what was his final outing as a Vol, Jackson struck out four batters.

While the bullpen shined in much-needed fashion, the offense was unable to produce. Tennessee’s five-through-nine hitters combined to go just 1-for-16 at the plate. As a whole, the Vols recorded just six hits and were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

Tennessee’s season comes to an end following the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005. The Vols finish the year 40-21 on the season, marking the first time UT has earned 40 wins in a season since 2005 and only the fourth time since 2000 that Tennessee has eclipsed the 40-win mark in a season.

For the Vols, this season gives them a strong launching point for the future. But for now, the sting of the loss to North Carolina will take a little to subside.

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