Spence & Russell lead No. 4 Vols to series-opening win over No. 9 Gators
Dallas improved to 5-0 on the year after tying a career high with 11 strikeouts in seven innings
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - In a battle of top-10 teams, No. 4 Tennessee took round one with a 6-4 win in Friday night’s series opener at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The duo of Evan Russell and Liam Spence powered the offense while Chad Dallas had a solid bounce-back performance on the mound after struggling last weekend at Alabama.
Spence had yet another multi hit game, his team-leading 15th of the season, finishing with two knocks, a walk and an RBI while scoring the game-winning run, as well.
Russell showed out in the big moment once again, leading the Big Orange with three hits and three RBI. The Lexington, Tennessee, native had a two-run double in the fourth and gave the Vols a little bit of insurance with a solo homer in the eighth. All three of Russell’s hits came with two outs.
Dallas improved to 5-0 on the year after tying a career high with 11 strikeouts in seven innings pitched while Sean Hunley secured his fourth save of the season with two perfect innings to finish the game.
Tennessee (26-5 // 8-2 SEC) struck first with an RBI single up the middle from Spence in the third. That lead didn’t last long, however, as the Gators led off the fourth with back-to-back solo home runs by Nathan Hickey and Kirby McMullen to their only lead of the night.
The Vols quickly answered back with two runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth on Russell’s double to right-center field and added another run with a Drew Gilbert RBI single in the fifth. Gilbert also had a strong night at the dish with two hits and a run scored.
Florida (20-10 // 5-5 SEC) hit another solo shot and took advantage of some sloppy fielding by UT in the seventh to score two more runs and tie the game at four, but once again, the Vols had an answer.
After a leadoff double by Spence and a perfectly executed bunt single by Max Ferguson put runners on the corners with nobody out, Jake Rucker hit a sacrifice fly to score Spence and put Tennessee ahead for good. Russell’s sixth homer of the year made it 6-4 in the eighth before Hunley slammed the door with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
The Vols will look to win the series tomorrow night in Game 2. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m. on the SEC Network.
LIVING FOR THE BIG MOMENT: Evan Russell would probably tell you he hasn’t had the season he was envisioning so far, however, the senior outfielder has come up big when the team has needed him in conference play. After tying the single-game program record with three home runs in a win over No. 14 LSU two weeks ago, Russell led the charge again for UT in Friday’s win, tying a career-high with three hits while driving in three runs. Russell’s six bombs this season are tied for the team lead.
RISING UP VS. RANKED TEAMS: Tennessee has shown a propensity to rise up in big games under Tony Vitello. Friday’s win was UT’s 24th over a ranked opponent since Vitello took over as head coach in 2018.
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