GAINESVILLE, Fla. – No. 24 Tennessee held on for an 8-7 victory over Florida on Saturday at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium to even the series with the Gators and force a pivotal rubber game tomorrow afternoon.
Andre Lipcius was phenomenal at the plate, tying a career high with four hits while also driving in three runs and finishing a triple short of the cycle. Alerick Soularie had a big two-run homer in the fifth while Justin Ammons also drove in two runs on the day.
For the second straight day, the Vols took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the first. After UF starter Jack Leftwich struck out the first two batters of the game, Lipcius hit an absolute bomb over the bleachers in left field for his 14th homer of the year.
Sticking to yesterday’s script, the Gators answered in the bottom of the first to tie the game at one. Leadoff man Brady McConnell hit the first pitch he saw over the center-field fence to make it a 1-1 game. McConnell was one of five Florida players to finish the day with two hits, both of his being home runs.
Following a couple of scoreless innings for both teams, Florida made Crochet and the Vols pay for a hit batter and a walk to start the bottom of the fourth. Kendrick Calilao doubled to left center later in the inning to drive in both runs and give the Gators a 3-1 advantage.
The Big Orange responded with a big number in the top of the fifth to retake the lead. Ammons, Lipcius and Soularie all drove in runs as the Vols struck for five in the inning to take a 6-3 lead. Lipcius gave UT the lead with a two-run single, his third hit of the day, before Soularie hit a two-run bomb for his 11th home run of the year.
Ammons extended the Tennessee lead to four runs with his second RBI-single of the afternoon in the top of the sixth, but UF got right back in the game with a two-run blast off the bat of Will Dalton in the bottom of the inning to cut the UT lead to two.
The Vols went back up by three with a run in the top of the seventh when Ricky Martinez drove in a run with an infield single with the bases loaded. UT had a chance to add more runs, but Justin Alintoff struck out Landon Gray to end the inning and limit the damage to a single run.
Florida answered yet again in the bottom of the seventh with two runs to cut the deficit back to one. McConnell hit his second home run of the game to make it 8-6 before two singles and a double by Brady Smith made it a one-run game. The Vols were fortunate that Smith’s double didn’t tie the game as it seemed like Nelson Maldonado would score easily but tripped rounding third base. Lipcius made a fantastic defensive play to cut down Maldonado at home plate one batter later before Andrew Schultz struck out Calilao to end the inning and preserve the lead.
Florida had a pair of singles in the bottom of the ninth to get the tying run in scoring position, but Sewell got Calilao to fly out to left field to end the game.
VOLS SECURE SEC TOURNAMENT BERTH: With Saturday’s win and other results around the league, the Big Orange officially locked up a spot in this year’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. This year marks UT’s first trip to Hoover since 2016.
THE BIG 5-0: With three runs batted in on the day, Andre Lipcius passed the 50-RBI mark on the year. He is the first UT player to drive in 50-plus runs in a season since Nick Senzel (59), Vincent Jackson (57) and Jordan Rodgers (56) all did it in 2016.
SEC EAST RECORD: Saturday’s victory also secured a winning record for the Vols against the SEC Eastern Division for the first time since 2010 when they went 8-7. Tennessee enters tomorrow’s rubber game with an 8-6 record against fellow eastern division schools and finishes the year with a series against Ole Miss, who is in the western division.
UP NEXT: The Vols and Gator square off one more time in tomorrow afternoon’s rubber game, which is slated to begin at 1 p.m. and will be streamed online via SEC Network+ and the WatchESPN app. Fans can also listen live as John Wilkerson calls the action for the Vol Radio Network (FM 99.1/AM 990).