KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 1 Tennessee broke the program record for single-season wins, securing their 55th victory of the year with a thrilling 12-7 triumph over Campbell in front of a raucous crowd on Saturday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
With the win, the Volunteers (55-7) advanced to Sunday’s regional final and will await the winner of Georgia Tech and Campbell, who will play an elimination game to kick off the action at 2 p.m.
Five UT players posted multi-hit efforts as the Orange and White cranked out 15 total hits on the night, including four home runs.
Drew Gilbert, Jorel Ortega and Cortland Lawson all homered and had three RBIs apiece to lead the offensive onslaught. Blake Burke also homered for the 14th time this season to tie the program’s single season record for home runs by a freshman.
Despite the impressive offensive numbers, it was the Fighting Camels that threw the first punch. The Big Orange had to battle back from a four-run deficit in the third inning, tying their largest comeback win of the season.
After getting runners in scoring position in the first and second innings but failing to capitalize, the Campbell (41-18) broke through in the third with four runs (two earned) on four hits and an error to take a 4-0 lead and chase Vols’ starter Chase Dollander from the game. Veteran lefty reliever Kirby Connell was able to strand the bases loaded with a fly out to left field to limit further damage.
Connell was nothing short of spectacular from that point forward, allowing just two runs on three hits in four innings of work while tossing a career-high 65 pitches en route to earning his fourth victory of the year.
Tennessee immediately answered the Camels’ four-spot with three runs of their own in the top of the fourth to cut the deficit to one. Gilbert got the rally started with a double to right field and raced home one batter later on a single by Trey Lipscomb to get UT on the board. Ortega continued his hot hitting with a no-doubt two-run homer over the porches in left field to bring the Vols within a run.
It was Gilbert who came up clutch once again for the Vols in the top of the fifth, blasting a mammoth three-run home run to give UT its first lead of the night. After falling behind 0-2 in the count, Gilbert hammered a hanging breaking ball over the videoboard for his 11th long ball of the year. UT added another run later in the inning on an infield single by Ortega to make it 7-4.
Campbell battled back to plate a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh with a Drake Pierson two-run homer to center field to pull back within one, but Burke quickly answered with a solo shot of his own in the top of the eighth to put the Big Orange up 8-6.
After another home run by Campbell in the bottom of the eighth to cut the deficit to one once again, the Vols got some much-needed insurance with four runs in the top of the ninth, punctuated by a three-run blast by Lawson.
With a win tomorrow, Tennessee would advance to its second consecutive NCAA Super Regional. First pitch for UT’s game against either Georgia Tech or Campbell is slated for 7:06 p.m.
VOLLIE FINGERS FOR THE WIN: Junior lefty reliever Kirby Connell improved his record to 4-0 on the year with Saturday’s win. Over his last 22 appearances, Connell has allowed just four runs and has not given up a run in 19 of those outings.
150 BOMBS: With Cortland Lawson’s three-run jack in the top of the ninth inning, the Vols reached the 150-homer mark for the season, which ranks sixth all-time in NCAA history. Tennessee has hit four-plus homers in each of their first two NCAA Regional games and has posted 17 games with four or more long balls this season.
BURKE TIES FRESHMAN HR RECORD: Blake Burke tied the program record for home runs by a freshman with his 14th dinger of the season. Burke pulled even with J.P. Arencibia (2005) and Alan Cockrell (1983).
RUSSELL ATOP GAMES PLAYED LIST: After entering the game in the bottom of the eighth as a defensive replacement, Evan Russell pulled even with former teammate Pete Derkay for the program record in games played (229).