Until Sunday afternoon, Tennessee had yet to accomplish a series sweep over an opponent this season. However, the Vols (15-9) changed that by notching their first in-conference sweep since 2015 over Alabama.
After losing three straight games prior to their series with the Crimson Tide, the series sweep sets Tennessee back on track.
“I’m still kind of elated at the fact that we won a series, which is our goal, and then you throw another win in there,” Volunteers Head Coach Tony Vitello said. “It’s like having two desserts after one meal.”
Tennessee kicked off their SEC home opener in front of a crowd anxious for a Vols win. The orange-and-white got on the scoreboard early after senior outfielder Brodie Leftridge hit an RBI single to center field to bring home sophomore infielder Andre Lipcius in the first inning.
Next, Tennessee freshman Evan Russell drove an RBI single to left field in the fourth inning to score Leftridge. Russell finished with two hits and two RBI’s on the day. Alabama scored the next three runs of the game, taking a 3-2 lead heading into the top of the fifth inning.
The teams faced a tie score in the bottom of the ninth inning at 4-4. The Vols had the bases loaded with Russell at the plate. Russell drew a game-winning walk, which brought home senior catcher Benito Santiago to lift Tennessee a 5-4 win in the first game of the series.
“I was expecting to be in that certain situation,” Russell said of his patience at the plate. “I was excited about it. I knew he was going to have to come to me and he never came to me.”
Game two was originally set for Saturday night, but inclement weather pushed the game back to Sunday at noon. Sunday saw a double-header of two seven-inning games that Volunteers fans won’t soon forget.
In game two, both Tennessee and the Crimson Tide’s bats went cold. Although there were 10 total hits in the game, the teams combined for just three runs. Alabama struck first in the top of fifth inning, but the Vols got the last laugh.
Sophomore outfielder Justin Ammons scored on an error, and Russell once again drew another bases-loaded walk to score Lipcius in the sixth inning. Tennessee came out with a 2-1 victory and the series win, but they weren’t finished.
Sophomore Garrett Stallings pitched all seven innings in game two for the orange-and-white, giving up six hits and only one run. Stallings also struck out five batters in his start and moved to 4-1 on the season.
“It’s definitely a big change in the game, but every time I go out I want to pitch the whole game,” Stallings said about the unique seven-inning format. “It made it a little bit easier to do that, but I was happy we got away with the win.”
The two opponents got right back into action just one hour later for the final game of the series. Like Stallings in game two, junior Will Neely pitched a full game for Tennessee in game three. Neely struck out four batters and gave up five hits in Sunday’s win, as the stout Vols defense gave up no runs.
Tennessee scored all three runs in the game, as Santiago hit a single to center field in the first inning to bring home Lipcius. Sophomore outfielder Jay Charleston trotted in on an Alabama fielding error.
The final run came from an Ammons single, as Russell made it to home plate in the bottom of the third inning. Nothing much happened after the Vols big inning, as they won 3-0 and swept the series over Alabama.
Up next, Tennessee will face Western Carolina on the road on Tuesday. The Volunteers won their previous matchup with the Catamounts this season by a score of 5-0.
Written by Cole McCormick
Edited by Seth Raborn/Lexie Little
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics