Vols Sweep Western Illinois with Dominating Weekend

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Tennessee completed the season-opening sweep of Western Illinois on Sunday afternoon with another huge win, coming away with a 23-4 victory.

The Vols (3-0) tallied 19 hits at the plate and 16 strikeouts on the mound, recording double-digit hits and strikeouts for the second consecutive game. Tennessee’s 19 hits were the most in a game since 2016. Thirteen different Vols recorded a hit, and six Vols tallied multiple hits.

“It feels good,” coach Tony Vitello said following the win. “The bottom line is that there were some really good at-bats as the weekend went on.”

Tennessee didn’t push any runs across in the first inning, but they did so in the second inning by scoring eight runs. Connor Pavolony got things going by drawing a walk with the bases loaded to score Evan Russell. With the bases still loaded, Luc Lipcius hit a two-run double to left center. Max Ferguson then hit an RBI single before Zach Daniels and Jake Rucker hit back-to-back two-run doubles which gave the Vols an 8-0 lead at the end of two innings.

Ferguson drove in his second run of the game in the third inning. The sophomore second baseman smacked a line drive home run over the right field fence to extend the Vols’ lead to 9-0.

In the fourth inning, Jake Rucker scored on a wild pitch. Liam Spence then singled to left to bring in Pavolony and give Tennessee a 11-o lead at the end of four.

Jackson Leath (W, 1-0) started for the Vols on the bump. In his first career appearance and start, Leath didn’t allow any runs until the fifth inning. He ran into trouble in the first, giving up a walk and then allowing a Leatherneck to reach on a wild pitch despite striking him out. After a visit from pitching coach Frank Anderson, the junior struck out the final two batters of the inning to get out of the jam.

“I just settled in and threw strikes,” Leath said. “After the first inning, just being able to establish a fastball and work off-speed off that.”

Leath pitched 4.1 innings in his Tennessee debut. The right-hander allowed three earned runs on two hits, but he allowed just two walks and struck out 12 Western Illinois batters. The Leathernecks didn’t touch up Leath until the fifth inning when they struck for three runs on a two-run triple and an RBI groundout.

“It was a tale of three different stories for me,” Vitello said. “That was pretty special there in the middle when he (Leath) found his groove. At the very end, the third story, it was me leaving him in there too long.

“It was a good first time outing, and he showed flashes of brilliance out there. I look forward to more of him on the mound.”

Tennessee answered Western Illinois’ three runs with two runs of its own when Lipcius hit his second two-run double of the day. Lipcius finished 2-for-3 at the plate with two doubles and four RBI.

“It was really important that we weren’t giving up at-bats,” Lipcius said. “That’s really important as a team, because we have a lot of tough competition coming up.”

The Vols led 13-4 midway through the seventh after Western Illinois tacked on a run courtesy of a Trenton Bauer home run. Tennessee then exploded for seven runs in the bottom of the seventh to take a 20-4 lead after seven.

In the inning, Pete Derkay singled through the left side to score Jordan Beck, Trey Lipscomb hit a sacrifice fly to score Alerick Soularie, Landon Gray singled up the middle to score Derkay, Spence reached on a throwing error which allowed Christian Scott to score, Beck singled to left to score Matt Turino, and Derkay was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

Austin Knight hit a three-run home run in the following inning to score the final runs of the game. It was Knight’s second career home run and the second consecutive game in which the sophomore hit a three-run home run.

Sunday’s win for the Vols to sweep Western Illinois marked the second straight season Tennessee opened the year with a series sweep. Last season, the Vols swept Appalachian State to begin the 2019 season.

Tennessee will be back in action against Charlotte (1-2) on Tuesday afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET.