Tennessee picked up its NCAA-best 10th shutout of the season, taking the series opener over the Rebels. Garrett Stallings looked like the ace he has been for most of the season as he turned in his second complete game shutout in the Vols 7-0 win.
Here are three takeaways from Thursday's game.
End of Vols lineup comes alive
For the majority of SEC play, Tennessee hasn’t gotten much production from the bottom of its lineup.
Tennessee received production from Ricky Martinez and Connor Pavolony last weekend at Florida, and that carried over to Friday’s opener against the Rebels as the two combined for three RBIs.
With Tennessee leading 1-0 and struggling to hit Ole Miss starter Will Ethridge the Vols exploded for four runs in the fifth inning.
Jake Rucker and Pete Derkay led off the inning with singles and Martinez took a 1-2 pitch and doubled to left field scoring the pair.
Pavolony kept the rally going singling to left field and scoring Martinez to extend the Vols lead.
The two hits proved critical in the contest as it helped give the Vols some separation from the Rebels as Garrett Stallings cruised.
Tennessee’s seven, eight, and nine hitters went a combined 6-for-10 while batting in three runs at the plate.
Ricky Martinez led the way for the group going 4-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.
“I was just seeing pitches I could hit,” Martinez said. “I wasn’t thinking about what pitch was coming or what the count was or anything like that. Just going up there relaxed and making things happen.”
Stallings returns to form
For a portion of this season Garrett Stallings was un-hittable, giving the Vols a true SEC ace. However, the past few weeks had seen Stallings struggle as Arkansas and Florida teed off on the junior.
Stallings looked like he had early in the season Friday, pitching nine innings while only giving up four hits, no walks, and striking out seven.
“His mistakes were good mistakes tonight,” head coach Tony Vitello said. “The other teams going to be aggressive… So when they’re doing that if you make poor mistakes here or there they’ll get exploited, even if it’s just a few… Tonight his mistakes were down or off the plate. Every pitch was a winning pitch it seemed like.”
Stallings got 12 outs on the first or second pitch of the at-bat, a staple of when he is at his best.
“I was super aggressive tonight,” Stallings said. “I kind of knew they would be free swingers at the beginning, so I was kind of pitching backwards and my fastball kind of played up late.”
Ole Miss only threatened once which came in the eighth inning when a pair of single gave them runners on first and second with nobody out. Ole Miss pinch hitter Justin Bench grounded into a 5-4-3 double play and Stallings struck out Servideo to get out of the inning.
The complete game was Stallings second of the season and fourth of his career as the Vols went 5-5 in SEC play with the junior on the mound.
Defense does its part
As excellent as Stallings was on the night he wasn’t without help. The Vols defense made nice play after nice play in the field helping hold the Rebels to just four hits.
Al Soularie made a nice sliding play to open the fifth inning, robbing Ryan Olenek of a hit.
The eighth inning saw a big play by Lipcius hold Ole Miss scoreless as the junior made a nice stop to turn the double play.
“That was huge,” Stallings said. “I threw a changeup and Andre (Lipcius) made a great play looking off the runner and throwing it across and getting the double play.”
Impressive play continued into the ninth inning where a pair of impressive plays helped preserve Tennessee’s 10th shutout.
Tyler Keenan hit a shot, but Pete Derkay knocked down the ball and tossed it to Stallings for the second out of the inning.
Soularie picked up out number 27 on the night when Thomas Dillard hit one sky high to left center. The shutout looked like it might end, but Soularie made a spectacular leaping catch to end the inning and secure the win.
Tennessee will take on Mississippi for game two of the series Friday night at 6:30 p.m.