Vitello gets 100th win as Vols open SEC play

#10 Tennessee defeats Georgia 11-6 in League and series opener
Tony Vitello
Tony Vitello(Tennessee Athletic Communications)
Published: Mar. 20, 2021 at 10:25 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello earned career win No. 100 as the 10th-ranked Volunteers jumped out to a big early lead to take down No. 7 Georgia, 11-6, in Friday night’s SEC opener at Foley Field in Athens.

The Vols (16-3 // 1-0 SEC) led 9-0 after four innings and never looked back to open conference play with a win for the second time in three SEC seasons under Vitello.

Liam Spence and Jake Rucker combined to drive in nine of the team’s 11 runs while Evan Russell and Jordan Beck also had multi-hit performances. Spence was the driving force behind the Vols offensive onslaught with three hits, three runs, two walks and four RBI, all of which tied career highs.Playing in his first-career SEC game, the senior shortstop started the night with a bang as he homered to left field to lead off the game. It was the first leadoff homer by UT since Justin Ammons hit one at Vanderbilt on March 29, 2019.Tennessee keep the pressure on with two more runs in the third on RBI singles from Rucker and Beck to make it 3-0 before exploding for six runs in the fourth to take a commanding 9-0 lead.

Russell led off the fourth with a triple before Georgia pitcher Liam Sullivan walked four straight batters to allow two more runs to cross the plate. Rucker made a bad inning even worse for Sullivan with a grand slam to put the Vols up by nine. The Greenbrier, Tennessee, native finished with a career-best five runs batted in on the night.UT starter Chad Dallas cruised through the first four innings, allowing just one hit, but ran into trouble in the fifth and sixth, allowing five runs between the two innings. The junior right hander improved to 3-0 on the year despite giving up six runs on nine hits. He did tie a career high with nine strikeouts and pitched much better than his final stat line indicates. The Bulldogs (13-4 // 0-1 SEC) broke up the shutout with two runs in the bottom of the fifth after loading the bases with one out. A single by Fernando Gonzalez and an RBI groundout by Ben Anderson cut the deficit to seven runs before Dallas struck out Cole Tate to strand two runners on base and end the inning.

After a bases-loaded walk by Spence in the top of the sixth made it 10-2, Georgia responded with a two-out rally in the bottom of the inning that featured RBI hits from Riley King and Parks Harber. The Bulldogs plated three runs in the inning to make it a 10-5 ball game.

The Dawgs scratched another run across in the seventh to cut its deficit to four. Cole Tate singled with one out and worked his way around the bases before scoring on a wild pitch to make it a 10-6 game. UT reliever Sean Hunley got Josh McAllister to strike out swinging to end the inning and limit the damage to just a single run.

Spence kept his big night going with another RBI in the top of the eighth to put the Vols back ahead by five. After an error extended the inning, Spence doubled to the corner in right field to score Connor Pavolony from second and make it 11-6.Hunley took it home from there, retiring the Bulldogs in order in the final two innings to crush any hope of a late comeback. The senior right hander did not allow a hit and struck out four batters in 2.2 innings of relief.

The Vols will look to secure a series win tomorrow afternoon in Game 2 of the series. First pitch is set for 1 p.m. on SEC Network Plus.

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