After being shut out in game one of the series, No. 5 Tennessee looked to even things up against No. 2 Vanderbilt in game two. The Vols won 8-4 in a game that was hard-fought from start to finish.
Senior left fielder Evan Russell had the performance of the day for the Vols. He hit three home runs, including two off future first-round draft pick Jack Leiter. However, Russell’s third homer of the day was the biggest for Tennessee. He came up to bat with the bases loaded and the Vols down 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth. Vanderbilt pitcher Luke Murphy threw a first-pitch slider that Russell clobbered, resulting in a go-ahead grand slam.
“I wanted to give my team the best chance of evening the series,” Russell said. “I had no intention that this was going to happen, but it’s pretty cool that it did.”
This was his second three-home run game in SEC play this season after he accomplished the feat against LSU on March 27. No Tennessee baseball player has ever hit for multiple three-home run games in a season.
Tennessee’s offense showed up in game two against Leiter. Going into the game, the Vanderbilt star had allowed just three runs the entire season, but he surrendered three earned runs to the Vols in this game alone.
On the mound for the Vols, Will Hefflin pitched seven innings while giving up just one earned run and striking out four.
“Part of my personality is that I like to fight and give our team a chance to win,” Heflin said.
He said that he did not have his best stuff today, but found a way to get outs. The Vols’ bullpen combined for two scoreless innings of relief after Heflin’s day came to a close.
After falling in game one on Friday, Tennessee now has a chance to win the series in game three and take sole possession of first place in the SEC East.
Head Coach Tony Vitello said the team has to be able to press the reset button to be ready to play the next game.
“Our guys need to come to work with the right approach… (Vanderbilt) is going to bring all kinds of good stuff tomorrow,” he said.
The rubber match between Tennessee (29-7, 10-4 SEC) and Vanderbilt (27-6, 10-4 SEC) is at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The Vols are looking to win their first series against Vanderbilt since 2016.
Edited by Christian Knox and Ryan Sylvia
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Baseball Twitter (@vol_baseball)