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Big Game Hunter Ensley Keeps Coming Through For Tennessee Baseball

Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Baseball

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Evansville pitcher Shane Harris largely gave Tennessee fits in his 2.1 innings of relief on Friday afternoon. Hunter Ensley recorded two of the three hits he allowed including the decisive three-run homer that all but put the Purple Aces away in the Vols’ 11-6 super regional opening win.

“He’s in the lineup because he fights,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said postgame. “And everybody knows he’s got the ability to hit. … The results will come and go, but the more often or higher percentage of the time you compete your butt off, you just kind of shifted the percentages in your favor a little bit. And I think that’s what he does.”

Ensley was the first batter that Harris faced, coming in with a runner on second and two-outs in the fifth inning. The Vols’ center fielder fell behind 0-2, watched a ball and then hit an opposite field single to cap off a three-run inning.

Tennessee’s big inning came directly after Evansville scored three runs in the fifth inning to tie the game. Ensley’s strong at-bat capped off an impressive response, something that’s become a common theme for this team.

“I just think offensively, our mentality is, any given inning, we can get you for three or four or five, even more than that,” Ensley said. “But I think offensively, it’s just keep the foot on the pedal.”

His big swing came two innings later after a Billy Amick double and a Dylan Dreiling walk gave the Vols two-on with two-outs. Ensley once again fell behind 1-2, fouled off a pitch and watched a ball to even the count before turning on a pitch and sending it into the second deck of left field porches to push Tennessee’s lead to 11-5.

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“I think early in the count, maybe trying to do a little too much,” Ensley said of his approach change in the two at-bats. “But getting later in the count, I think the only thing you can do (with) two strikes is get in there and compete. Really try and change my sight to middle of the field rather than left center, left field.”

Those two at-bats were the banner moments of Ensley’s day but weren’t the only moments of importance. He had a fantastic slide to evade a tag at home on a fourth inning sac fly. The redshirt junior does all the little things well. It typically shows up with his defensive steadiness in center field but peaked its head on the base paths against the Purple Aces.

Ensley’s ability to do the plain things well combined with his success at the plate last season was why Tony Vitello unapologetically rolled with Ensley this season despite extended struggles at the plate.

“I’m as much for competition as anybody, but when you do have experience and we know truly what you can do in games, it does give you an edge,” Vitello said on his trust in Ensley last week. “Based off what he did for us last year in so many different situations, you can’t erase that. … Whether it be taking charge in the outfield, being able to be one of the better center fielders in the country, defensively, being an aggressive and really good baserunner and being a fighter at the plate.”

Ensley’s rewarded Vitello’s patience. His clutch hitting in the Knoxville Super Regional has become the standard over the last month when the significance of games has become greater. In Tennessee’s last 18 games, Ensley is hitting 25-for-61 (.410) with a .538 on-base percentage to go along with home home runs, eight doubles and 22 RBIs.

The veteran outfielder is extending the depth of Tennessee’s already loaded lineup. His success is a large part of the reason that the Vols are once again a win away from Omaha.

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