Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) No. 17 Tennessee bounced back from a Friday night loss to win the final two games of a weekend series for the second week in a row, sweeping Saturday’s doubleheader at Missouri to take its opening series of Southeastern Conference action.
After dropping Friday night’s contest, 5-2, the Vols rebounded with a 5-1 win in Saturday’s opener and a 4-1 victory in the nightcap. The doubleheader sweep improves UT to 17-2 on the season and 2-1 in league play. Tennessee concludes its season-long seven-game, nine-day road swing with a 5-2 mark, including series wins over then-No. 24 Arizona State and the Tigers. The Vols traveled over 4,720 miles during that span.
“This team continues to find ways to win,” said head coach Dave Serrano. “I’m glad they don’t paint portraits of victories, because that would be a pretty ugly portrait, but I’d still hang it on our wall because it was a victory for our Vols.
“When you look back at the weekend it wasn’t an offensive juggernaut on either side of the ball. I’m not making any excuses – nor will I ever – but this team is tired. This team has been going since Tuesday against La Salle 12 days ago. It’s been nonstop and I could tell the tank was low at the end of the day today. But we were able to overcome that. We fought and clawed for some runs to come out on top and hold [Missouri] down.”
Freshman designated hitter Nick Senzel – the reigning SEC Player of the Week – continued his early tear to the season with four hits and three RBIs on Saturday. Senzel went 2-for-4 in both games. Vincent Jackson also came up big in spots, posting a 3-for-8 performance with two doubles and two RBIs on Saturday. Senior Scott Price added three hits and two runs on Saturday, including a key RBI triple in the eighth inning of the series finale.
On the mound, sophomore right-hander Andrew Lee gave up just three hits and one run in game two of the doubleheader. Exiting with the game level at 1-1, Lee set things up for Drake Owenby, who gave up two hits over 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Owenby got the win in game two. Sophomore southpaw Andy Cox picked up the victory in game one, tossing 3 1/3 innings of shutout baseball. Cox gave up just three hits and worked out of two crucial bases-loaded jams, including one with no outs.
Two singles and a sac bunt gave Missouri the 1-0 lead after one inning of play in game two on Saturday, but the Vols tied things up moments later as Jackson doubled to the right field corner and freshman Nathaniel Maggio delivered the RBI single in the top half of the second.
Lee and Missouri starter Eric Anderson settled in after the first two frames and kept things scoreless. Lee went on to retire 10 in a row and would allow just three hits and three walks while striking out three over 5 2/3 innings of work. Anderson, meanwhile, worked six innings and struck out a career-best eight while giving up just five hits.
Vols’ catcher David Houser came up big defensively in the bottom of the sixth, as he stuffed Mizzou’s Anderson at the plate with another great block.
Tennessee got to Missouri closer Keaton Steele, who saved Friday night’s matchup, in the eighth inning. Senior Taylor Smart led off with a standup double to right center, which was immediately followed by a standup triple by Price, scoring Smart to give the Vols a 2-1 lead. Price made it 3-1 when he hustled home on a passed ball. Senzel then singled-in Christin Stewart, who reached on a walk, to give the Vols a 4-1 lead. It was Senzel’s team-leading 19th RBI of the season. The freshman has also reached base in all 18 games he’s played in this season.
Owenby gave up one hit and one walk in both the eighth and ninth innings, but was able to strand both Tigers to seal his second win of the season.
Tennessee took a 1-0 lead in the first inning of game one off a walk from Mizzou pitcher John Miles. Price, who got the inning started with a walk, was moved over to second on a sac bunt by A.J. Simcox and advanced to third on a beautifully-place bunt single by Will Maddox. Price came home on the balk to score his team-leading 19th run of the season.
Stewart broke up a stretch of nine in a row retired by Miles with a loop single to right field in the top of the fourth inning. After a wild pitch advanced the sophomore to second, Senzel roped a 2-1 pitch through the left side of the infield, bringing Stewart around to score. Jackson drilled a double down the left field line on the very next pitch to plate Senzel from first base and put UT on top 3-0.
Missouri picked up four hits in the fourth, but was only able to cut Tennessee’s lead to 3-1 as Cox entered in relief of Hunter Martin and got out of a two-out, bases-loaded jam. Martin allowed four hits, one run, walked two and struck out two over 3 2/3 innings of work.
Cox loaded the bases with no outs via a hit by pitch and back to back singles in the sixth, but the Arlington, Tenn., native battled back to strikeout Missouri’s Jake Ring and then got a clutch inning-ending 6-4-3 double play behind him to escape the bases-loaded dilemma. It was the Vols’ second double play of the game.
The middle of the Vols order came up big again in the eighth, as Senzel and Jackson both delivered RBI singles to give Tennessee a 5-1 lead late in game one of the doubleheader. Tennessee got some help from the Mizzou defense as the Tigers committed two errors in the inning. Senzel and Jackson both improved to 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
After Kyle Serrano walked the only two batters he faced in the eighth, sophomore right-hander Trevor Bettencourt worked two perfect innings – facing just five batters – to notch his second save of the season.
Tennessee returns to the diamond on Tuesday with a midweek matchup against Austin Peay at Lindsey Nelson Stadium at 6 p.m. ET. The Vols will host SEC rival Auburn for a three-game weekend series from March 21-23.