KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -– Sophomore southpaw Andy Cox finished off Tennessee’s series win over No. 25 Kentucky with an exclamation mark, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning to lead the Vols to a series-clinching 5-1 win over the Wildcats on a beautiful Saturday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
A day after senior right-hander Nick Williams led the Vols (28-17, 10-14) to victory with a gutsy performance, Cox gave up just two singles and one run while striking out seven over 7 2/3 innings. Kentucky (28-19, 10-14) broke up his no-hit bid with a bunt single in the seventh.
The Arlington, Tenn., native improved to 4-1 with the win and lowered his ERA to 1.87. His .167 batting average against now leads the SEC. He’s also leads the league with 35 hits against – just five for extras bases – over 62.2 frames.
“I'm really excited for the guys; really proud of the guys,” said head coach Dave Serrano. “After Thursday we talked about how we deal with adversity as a team and [the way we handled it] you can't draw it up any better. I'm very proud of them and what they accomplished. That wasn't easy. It's never going to be easy and it kind of goes off of what we're trying to feed into them – grit and grind. There was a lot of grinding that went on this weekend. We did a great job of executing today. We stung some balls, but the dinkers fell in for us to be honest with you. We executed tremendously well.
“The momentum today was started by Andy Cox. He was fabulous. He threw the most pitches that he’s thrown all year, all of his career here at Tennessee. It was probably a blessing that he had an extra day of rest from last week. What I mean by that is that he didn't pitch during the midweek at all so he had some more time off. I was just very proud of how he came out and played good baseball to beat what I think is a very good team.”
Right-handers Peter Lenstrohm and Andrew Lee came in to close it out for the Orange and White. Lenstrohm was called upon to get the final out of the eighth inning and he did it on just two pitches. Lee – now the Vols’ closer – gave up a walk and a hit in the ninth, but struck out the final two batters to clinch the win in a non-save situation.
In a pitching and defense dominated game, the Vols out-hit the Wildcats by a slim 5-3 margin. Christin Stewart and Tyler Schultz both drove in a pair of runs to lead the way for UT. Stewart had the only extra-base hit of the game, a RBI double in the sixth inning. Led by Will Maddox, UT was 4-for-5 on stolen base attempts. Maddox swiped two bags to increase his season total to a team-leading
Tennessee struck first for the third time in as many days on Saturday with some well-executed small ball. Maddox led off with a single down the left field line then stole second to move into scoring position. A.J. Simcox dropped down his team-leading 14th sac bunt of the season to advance him 90 feet. Stewart brought in the game’s first run with a sac fly to center for his team-leading 36th RBI.
Cox continued to deal in the early frames, sitting Kentucky down in order in both the second and third innings. During the six-batter stretch he struck out three.
Cox’s streak came to an end with a walk to start the top of the fourth, but then he got big-swinger A.J. Reed to hit into the infield shift for the third time of the series as UT executed the uncommon 4-5 putout to cut down the lead runner at second. Reed managed just one hit over the three games against the Vols. Cox added another strikeout to bring his total to five through four innings pitched.
Following another 1-2-3 side by Cox, Tennessee tacked on another run via the inside game in the fifth. A leadoff walk by Taylor Smart and a single through the right side by Vincent Jackson put runners on the corners with no outs. UT then put on the squeeze play and Schultz executed it perfectly to put the Vols on top 2-0.
Cox had a bit of trouble finding the zone in the sixth as he walked two and loaded the bases, but the sophomore worked out of it without allowing a hit to hang onto the 2-0 advantage.
Tennessee took advantage of the missed opportunity by UK, cushioning its slim lead with a three-run frame off three hits. Stewart sliced a RBI double into the left center gap to bring home Simcox and UT executed another squeeze play to bring home Stewart. Schultz made it 5-0 with a RBI single into left field to score Scott Price, who also singled in the inning.
Cox walked Michael Thomas and hit Storm Wilson to lead off the seventh inning. Looking to sacrifice the runners over, Matt Reida slightly popped up a bunt down the third baseline which stuck as soon as it hit the grass to go break up the no-no. However, Cox was able to work out of the frame with a strikeout and two groundballs, allowing just one UK run to come home to bring the game to its final margin of 5-1.
Tennessee turned a momentum-killing 6-4-3 double play in the eighth inning and Cox exited the game to a standing ovation at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Lenstrohm got the final out and Lee finished things off with two strikeouts in the ninth.
The Big Orange returns to action at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Tuesday, May 6 against UNC Asheville at 6 p.m. ET. The Vols continue SEC play at Mississippi State next weekend.