With Tennessee ace Garrett Stallings turning in his second below average performance of the year, it looked like the Vols would drop the series opener to Missouri. However, an offensive explosion and elite relief pitching allowed the Big Orange to prevail over the Tigers, winning 10-5.
Missouri took an early lead as the Tigers hit three singles in the first inning. Chris Cornelius had a one-out single and Peter Zimmermann had a two-out single before Chad McDaniel lined up the middle for a RBI single.
Tennessee answered in the bottom half of the inning as Justin Ammons led off the game tripling over the centerfielder, who misjudged the ball. Jay Charleston and Andre Lipcius couldn’t get him home grounding out to the pitcher and striking out respectively, but Al Soularie singled up the middle evening up the game.
“His will to win is really tough to measure,” head coach Tony Vitello said. “For him to get that first RBI tonight was huge. That could've been a little bit of a crushing blow to us to not drive in that run with our better hitters up there.”
Connor Brumfield gave missouri a baserunner in the second and Paul Gomez followed it up by doubling to left-center as the Tigers reclaimed the lead. Gomez took off for third base on a Stallings pitch, a good throw would've beat the runner, but Pavolony threw it into leftfield allowing the runner to come home.
Tennessee threatened in the third inning thanks to a pair of singles, but Soularie grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the opportunity.
Missouri’s fourth one-out single of the game gave the Tigers a baserunner in the top of the fourth and Brumfield followed it up launching a no-doubt homer into the parking lot in right field.
Tennessee was able to cut into the deficit in the bottom half of the inning as Jake Rucker’s two-out double scored Evan Russell. Ian Bedell came in to relieve Jacob Cantleberry and got a strikeout to end the inning and keep Missouri’s lead at 5-2.
Cantleberry ended the game with 3.2 innings pitched allowing five walks and two runs while striking out four and walking two.
After allowing a hit and a walk in the fifth inning Stallings day was done. The junior pitched 4.1 innings allowing nine hits, five runs, four of which were earned, and struck out seven.
“It just didn’t work out for him tonight,” Vitello said. “They came in with a good game plan. Their guys were really ready to play… But look at what he did. He got to where he needed to get for us. It really would’ve hurt us if we had to pull him in the third inning.”
Tennessee found success off Bedell in the fifth inning as Tennessee came storming back into the game. The Tiger’s reliever walked a pair of batter’s before Soularie took a 1-2 pitch off the wall in right field scoring Charleston and Lipcius and cutting Missouri’s lead to 5-4.
After walking Russell Bedell’s day was done and Konnor Ash came in in relief. Ash stranded Soularie at third striking out Pete Derkay and Ricky Martinez to end the inning.
Missouri, who entered the game walking the second most batters in the conference, failed to find the the strike zone walking three Tennessee batters including a two-out walk of Soularie that allowed the tying run to come home.
Russell blew the game open on the next at-bat grounding a 1-2 pitch down the left field line and clearing the bases. Ash was able to get out of the inning with a fly-out, but the damage was done as Tennessee tallied four runs and took an 8-5 lead.
“I heard Coach V telling me to just flush it and keep battling,” Russell said. “That’s what I did. I don’t know why the dude gave me a fastball, but he did. That’s what I like to hit, so it worked out.”
The momentum carried on for Tennessee the very next at-bat Cornelius ripped one to left-center, but Charleston made a fantastic catch at the wall robbing him of an extra-base hit. Hunley would get the next batter to groundout and his day was done.
“Jay making one of the best plays I’ve ever seen,” Russell said. “That kind of capped off everything. There was no feeling in the dugout that they were gonna comeback. I felt very confident that we were going to bury them.”
The sophomore turned in a nice performance throwing 2.1 scoreless innings allowing no runs and one hit, while striking out three.
Tennessee added three insurance runs in the eighth to push its lead to five. Soularie reached base on a walk and Russell singled before a wild pitch allowed Soularie to come home. Derkay added a RBI singling to left field and scoring Russell. Russell came home after Rucker’s two-out single landed between the center fielder and shortstop.
Redmond Walsh finished things off for the Vols pitching the final 2.1 innings allowing no runs and two hits, and striking out four.
Missouri’s Brumfield turned in a big performance at the plate going 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.
Soularie led the way for the Vols going 2-for-3 at the plate with two walks and a career high four RBIs.
“It’s just being me,” Soularie said. “I know I’m a good hitter, so I don’t have to do too much… If they throw me a pitch I can hit then it’ll be hit.”
Russell turned in another big night for Tennessee going 3-for-4 with three RBIs.
Missouri’s bullpen struggled mightily on the night allowing eight runs and walking nine batters in 4.1 innings of work.
Game two of the series is set for Saturday at noon.