Tennessee's five homers power Vols past Kentucky in series opener

On3 imageby:Zack Geoghegan05/12/23

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Last weekend against No. 3 South Carolina, the Bat ‘Cats held the Gamecocks, one of the nation’s top home run-smacking teams, to just four dingers in the entire three-game series. The Tennessee Volunteers, also one of the nation’s best at knocking balls out of the park, bested that number in just nine innings.

On Friday night in Knoxville, No. 17 Kentucky baseball (34-14; 14-11 SEC) dropped the series opener to No. 23 Tennessee (34-16, 13-12 SEC) by a score of 10-6 in front of a sold-out Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The Volunteers poured in seven runs during the third inning to completely shift the tides, drilling three balls over the fences. UK did its best to mount a last-ditch comeback attempt in the ninth inning but ultimately fell way short of the desired result.

Tennessee won its 10th straight home outing with the victory and will look to make it 11 in a row on Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats drop to 9-8 on the season against ranked opponents with the postseason rapidly approaching.

Travis Smith, who was making just his second start of the season on the mound for head coach Nick Mingione, put the first inning to bed with ease, but it quickly went downhill from there. Tennessee’s Christian Moore put the initial number on the board in the bottom of the second with the first of five home runs for the Vols. It would get much worse for UK’s redshirt freshman pitcher.

Kentucky knotted the score up 1-1 in the top of the third after James McCoy scored on a throwing error, but the good fortune ended there. A trio of home runs and seven total runs from UT in the third inning sent Smith to an early exit as Kentucky was down in an early 8-1 hole just a third of the way through the night.

The Wildcats would again tack on one run in the top of the fifth inning thanks to a Devin Burkes solo shot to right center field — his fifth bomb of the season and first since late March. Unfortunately for UK though, home runs continued to be the name of the game. Tennessee brought in two more scores off the bat of Griffin Merritt’s sixth-inning homer that made it 10-2 in favor of the Vols. Merritt finished with five RBIs.

If the Big Blue Nation is looking for some positivity heading into Saturday’s game two, the final three innings of Friday night should help inspire some optimism. Kentucky gave up zero runs while driving in four of its own during that span, including three in the ninth inning to make it 10-6 with just one out. But Jase Felker and Hunter Gilliam would strike out swinging in back-to-back appearances for the Wildcats, putting this one to bed for good.

Kentucky will look to even the series on Saturday at noon EST on the SEC Network.

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2024-04-12