No. 21 ranked Tennessee (17-1) used a four-run burst in the seventh inning to cruise to a 7-2 win and series sweep over visiting UNC Asheville (5-11) Wednesday night.
However, things didn’t look promising early for the Vols. The Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Brandon Lankford drove the ball over the left field wall for a home run.
Tennessee managed to tie the game when Jay Charleston scored thanks to a UNC Asheville error.
UNC Asheville took another lead in the fourth inning when Carmine Pagano hit a single to put the Bulldogs ahead 2-1.
The Bulldogs looked poised to take a commanding lead when Andrew Friedholm drove the ball deep to left field with three players on base. However, left fielder Evan Russell managed to bring down the ball and save the Vols from disaster.
“It (Russell’s play) was the game,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said. “I know he’s not swinging the bat as well as he wants to, but he’s not gonna swing the bat well until he stops trying so dang hard, but he’s a competitor and that’s why you get so much effort out of him. That was the game and it wasn’t an easy one, so hats off to him.”
Will Heflin pitched 3.2 innings for Tennessee in the win. He only gave up one hit and struck out a career-high eight batters.
Heflin was relieved to recover from a poor showing on Saturday with a strong performance.
“I kinda had a chip on my shoulder I guess,” he said. “I’m just real appreciative to the coaches for letting me get back out there and get the taste out of my mouth as quick as possible.”
The offensive floodgates opened in the bottom of the seventh inning when Connor Pavolony’s double gave Tennessee a 5-2 lead. Runs by Pavolony and Martinez gave Tennessee a 7-2 advantage.
The Vols also took game one of the two-game series, winning 8-4 on Tuesday night. Starter Sean Hunley took the mound, but he was replaced by Will Heflin after just over three innings of work.
Finally, projected Wednesday starter Camden Sewell capped off Tuesday night for Tennessee. He allowed one run, two hits and tossed four strikeouts.
Two straight home runs in the bottom of the fourth inning of Tuesday’s game boosted the Vols in the win.
Up next, Tennessee travels to Auburn to begin SEC conference play this weekend. Pavolony says the Vols are confident as they head into a challenging SEC schedule.
“I think we’re pretty confident,” he said. “It’s not because we’re 17-1, we could be 18-0 right now, but I think we’re confident because the work we put in is second to none. I think there are people who might work as hard as we do, but nobody works harder than us. I think that shows because we’re 17-1, but we’ve got a lot more work to do and a lot more to prove in SEC play.”
Edited by Jake Nichols.
Featured image courtesy of Jake Nichols.