After falling behind early in the first inning, Tennessee responded with an offensive explosion to defeat Austin Peay 9-4 Tuesday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“We kind of control our own destiny, which is a good feeling,” Will Heflin said. “It’s right where you want to be going into this time of year.”
After losing two of three last weekend to Missouri at home and dropping five of its last six, Tennessee responded with a win before this weekend’s big series with Florida. It did not look well to begin the game when Tennessee starter Will Neely gave up a two-run home run to Parker Phillips in the top of the first inning. The long ball to left field was Phillip’s twentieth of the season. That set a new single season record for most home runs in Austin Peay school history.
Before the home run, Gino Avros led off the game with a single off of Neely. Overall, Neely only pitched 1.1 innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits.
“He was in the middle a little too much. Coach Anderson talked about a plan that was easier said than done,” head coach Tony Vitello said. “He always throws strikes, which we appreciate, but we need to sell out to win every game, so we didn’t hesitate to go to Heflin.”
Tennessee was able to respond to falling behind early, scoring two runs of its own in the bottom of the opening inning. Christian Scott and Andre Lipcius both base before Al Soularie singled to left field scoring both runners and tied the game at two.
“It was impressive, and it was needed,” Vitello said. “You don’t really want to say hey we need two runs right here to match that but we kind of needed that, at least I did.”
The Volunteers were able to break the game open in the third when Austin Peay pitchers were having trouble locating the strike zone. Sebastian Martinez came in the game to pitch for the Governors to begin the third and gave up five straight walks that gave Tennessee a 4-2 advantage.
With the bases still loaded, Pete Derkay and Landon Gray both hit sacrifice flies to center field to extend the lead to 6-2. Finally, Ricky Martinez doubled to left center field to push Tennessee’s lead to 7-2. Overall, in the third inning, Tennessee scored five runs on just one hit. Overall, the Governors walked a total of ten batters.
“I felt comfortable because I always played those guys back in high school, that’s my hometown team so I felt at home,” freshman Christian Scott said. “It’s a dream come true facing my home town is something that I look forward to.”
The Volunteers offense was not done in the game. In the fourth, after Lipcius led off the inning with another walk, Evan Russell doubled to left field to score Lipcius and extend Tennessee’s lead to six. In the sixth, Lipcius’s big day at the plate continued as he hit a ball deep to left field for a solo home run to push the Vols to a 9-2 advantage. The long ball was the thirteenth on the season, which leads the team.
With Tennessee leading the game 9-2, Austin Peay would add a couple of runs in the ninth inning. After John McDonald and Aaron Campbell both got hits off of Daniel Vasquez, Matt Joslin singled to cut the deficit to 9-3. A sac fly added the fourth and final run for Austin Peay.
On the mound, after Neely was taken out in the second, the Tennessee bullpen did a good job of checking the Governors offense in check. Heflin was the first man out of the bullpen for the Vols, and he pitched 3.1 innings of scoreless ball to pick up the win, his fourth of the season.
“I think I was down, pretty much the whole day,” Heflin said. “I was just trying to go out there and throw strikes and be able to hold that lead.”
After Heflin, Tennessee used a combination of six other pitchers, five of which did not allow a run. Of note, Richard Jackson struck out all four of the batters that he faced.
“I think Richard has been underutilized, I have maybe said that too many times,” Vitello said. “He has certainly earned anything he gets from this point forward.”
Tennessee improved their record in midweek games to 11-1, the only loss coming March 26th against ETSU.
The Volunteers will look to carry the momentum from the win on Tuesday into the weekend series against the Gators in Gainesville, who will be looking to keep their postseason hopes alive. Florida also won its midweek game this week on Tuesday night against USF.
First pitch for the series opener on Friday night is set for 6:30 p.m.