The No. 9 Tennessee baseball team defeated Western Carolina 9-2 on Tuesday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium after true freshman Kyle Booker had a career night. The Vols now sit at 22-4 through the 2021 campaign, while the Catamounts drop to 13-5.
“For Kyle, his skill set is pretty extraordinary,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “He is an SEC level player right now, strength-wise, speed-wise and everything else. The key for him is to be under control. He is an emotional kid, like a lot of our guys, which is one reason why he is a great competitor, but it’s important to train that fire. He wants to do so well and burst onto the scene as a freshman and he gets emotional about a BP swing here and there.”
Booker swung the hot-bat on Tuesday by going 2-for-4 at the plate, including a home run, three RBIs and three runs scored. The freshman outfielder recorded the first home run of his collegiate career while tallying a career-high in hits and runs, and matching his career-high in RBIs.
Jake Rucker recorded just one hit, but it was a big three-run homer late in the ball game. Evan Russell continued his hot hitting over the past week by clubbing his fifth home run of the season.
Western Carolina struggled at the plate as they finished with just three hits and three walks compared to 11 strikeouts. Luke Robinson provided the only production for the Catamounts, slamming a two-run homer to deep right field.
The first run of the game occurred in the first inning when Rucker grounded out to second base to allow Max Ferguson to score. Western Carolina took the lead just two innings later in the top of the third after Robinson hit a two-run home run to give the Catamounts a 2-1 lead.
Tennessee responded quickly as Booker came to the plate and hit his first career home run on the first pitch, tying the game at two.
“Almost every time I go up, I think fastball,” Booker said. “That’s really my mentality. I would say that I am an aggressive hitter, so if I see it there, I’m definitely swinging. So, I saw it there and I put a good swing on it.”
In the fourth inning, the Vols plated three runs on a two-run single from Booker, who would eventually score himself off of a wild pitch. The Vols increased their lead in the next inning with a solo-shot from Russell.
The Vols’ final offensive outburst came in the bottom of the eighth, when Rucker slugged an 0-2 pitch over the left-field pavilion to drive in three runs, securing Tennessee’s 9-2 win.
Tennessee used seven pitchers to help capture the midweek victory. Mark McLaughlin started on the bump and threw 2.1 innings of one-run ball, but did not allow a hit. Jake Fitzgibbons earned the win after allowing one hit and striking out four over 3.1 innings. Redmond Walsh entered in the ninth and punched out two batters.
Western Carolina relied heavily on its bullpen as well. Ryan Mitschele countered McLaughlin and also gave up a run on no hits, but he went just 2.0 innings. Eric Wallington recorded just one out and surrendered three runs to get stuck with the loss.
Up next for Tennessee is a weekend series against Alabama between April 2-4 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Friday night’s match is slated for a 7 p.m. start.