Coming off a win in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader against No. 1 Florida, the Tennessee baseball team will turn its attention to UT Martin who comes to town for two midweek games at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The Vols have handled their midweek opponents this year, going 7-2 so far in those games.
UT Martin has never won a game against the Vols, dropping all eight of the previous meetings. It’s been 20 years since the two teams last met, when Tennessee won 6-0 in 1998.
Interim head coach Ryan Jenkins has the Skyhawks sitting at 5-23 so far this season and bringing a 10-game losing streak into Tuesday’s game in Knoxville.
One of UT Martin’s wins came against Cincinnati, a team that the Vols swept in early March.
“Make no bones about it, the SEC games are more important,” Tony Vitello said. “But there is a great, great value in the games coming up on Tuesday and Wednesday. I am a firm believer in how our guys compete on those two days is probably what’s going to show up Friday in Baton Rouge.”
Tennessee freshman pitcher Sean Hunley will get the start on Tuesday. Hunley is 5-0 with a 1.85 ERA and 26 strikeouts on the year.
The Skyhawks will have Peyton Cain (0-3, 7.92 ERA) take the mound against the Vols offense.
“It feels good to know that Sean (Hunley) is reliable and ready to rock and roll and hungry to pitch on Tuesday,” Vitello said.
On Wednesday, Dalton Westfall (0-2, 14.73 ERA) is scheduled to be the starter for UT Martin. Westfall has not started a game since March 13.
Tennessee has not announced its starting pitcher for Wednesday’s game.
“It might be about giving somebody an opportunity. It might be doing whatever we have to do to win. It might be a good matchup, so we will wait and see,” Vitello said.
Pete Derkay, the player came up with several key plays against No. 1 Florida on Sunday, is confident in the team’s progression so far, noting that their record could be a little misleading.
“We know in some of these games, we are one play away from being a lot better, but we just need to stick together,” Derkay said. “We are a close-knit team, and we will continue to be doing that throughout the year.”
The Vols will need to limit Jordan Stoner’s production at the plate. Stoner, an outfielder for the Skyhawks, is batting .348 with three home runs and 11 RBIs this season.
UT Martin’s freshman catcher Blake Davis is coming off a weekend series against Morehead State, where he hit .545 at the plate and had a 1.583 OPS.
Adding wins to the record is vital for Tennessee at this point in the season.
“You want to go out and win those games,” Derkay said. “Coach calls them 'host games.' You need to win those games to try and host a regional. We just need to go out and prepare the best we can and go out and do our job.”
Tuesday’s game between Tennessee and UT Martin will start at 6:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on SEC Network +. Wednesday’s contest begins at 4:00 p.m. and can be seen on SEC Network.
The Skyhawks may not be the most talented opponent for the Vols, but the series will play a pivotal role in Tennessee’s next SEC series.
“The next huge SEC game we have is at LSU,” Vitello said. “How we are going to play down there at Baton Rouge is going to be determined by how we play on Tuesday and Wednesday.”