Four huge home runs, including three from senior Evan Russell, powered No. 3 Tennessee to an 8-4 victory over in-state and SEC rival No. 2 Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
However, Vandy won on Friday and Sunday to take the series.
In the Saturday contest, Russell tied the single-game program record for the second time this season with three massive homers. The Lexington, Tennessee, native saved his best for the last, blasting a grand slam with the Vols trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Russell finished the day 3-for-3 with a walk and a career high six runs batted in for the Big Orange.
Connor Pavolony hit the other long ball for UT, his second of the season, to put the Vols ahead 1-0 in the fourth inning. Russell hit his first blast of the game one batter later to put Tennessee up 2-0. The back-to-back homers were the first for the Vols since Andre Lipcius and Alerick Soularie did it in a win over Lipscomb on April 9, 2019.
Senior left hander Will Heflin was outstanding on the mound for the Vols, tossing seven strong innings to keep UT in striking distance. The Morristown, Tennessee, native scattered five hits and allowed four runs, but just one was earned. The duo of Sean Hunley and Kirby Connell pitched two scoreless innings to finish the game, with Hunley earning the win to improve to 5-2 on the year.
After UT (29-7 // 10-4 SEC) took its 2-0 lead in the fourth, Vanderbilt was able to take advantage of a costly throwing error that extended the sixth inning when CJ Rodriguez hit a three-run homer to put the Commodores ahead 3-2. Vandy made it 4-2 with a solo shot from Jayson Gonzalez in the top of the seventh.
Russell's second home run of the night cut the deficit to just a run before the Big Orange struck for five runs in the bottom of the eighth to take an 8-4 lead. Connell retired the side in order in the ninth to slam the door and help the Vols even the series at a game apiece.
On Sunday, No. 3 Tennessee was unable to contain the bats of No. 2 Vanderbilt in a 10-4 loss in the rubber game at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, dropping its first series of the season.
The Commodores finished the game with 12 hits and scored seven of their 10 runs with two outs. Five players had multiple hits for Vandy on the day, led by designated hitter Jack Bulger, who went 3-for-4 with two RBI, and leadoff man Enrique Bradfield Jr., who reached based four times, stole four bases and scored three runs. The first four hitters in the Commodores' lineup all had multi-hit days and combined for nine of the teams 12 total hits.
The Vols did display some impressive power with four home runs for the second consecutive game. All four of UT's runs came courtesy of solo shots from Max Ferguson, Jake Rucker, Evan Russell and Jackson Greer. Luc Lipcius had the Vols' only other hit in the game with a single.
After falling behind 1-0 in the top of the first, the Vols responded quickly with back-to-back home runs from Ferguson and Rucker in the bottom of the inning to take a 2-1 lead. It marked the second straight game that UT hit back-to-back homers after Connor Pavolony and Russell accomplished the feat in Saturday's win.
Following a scoreless second inning, Vanderbilt (28-6 // 11-4 SEC) regained the lead with two runs in the third before scoring three runs in the fourth to take a 6-2 advantage.
Russell hit a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth to cut the deficit to three, his fourth long ball of the series, to give Tennessee some life, however, that would be as close as the Vols would get for the remainder of the afternoon as the Dores scored two runs each in the fifth and sixth innings to take a 10-3 lead.
Greer's solo shot in the seventh, his first homer as a Volunteer, rounded out the scoring on the day.
Freshman right hander Blade Tidwell looked good through two innings but struggled in the third and fourth before being pulled. He was stuck with the loss after allowing four runs on six hits and a walk in three innings pitched.
Mark McLaughlin and Redmond Walsh had solid performances out of the bullpen, combining for 3.1 shutout innings to finish the game.
With a solo home run in the fourth inning, Russell hit his fourth dinger of the series after a three-homer day in Saturday's win. The senior from Lexington, Tennessee, leads the team with 10 four baggers this season and 10 of his 21 hits on the year have left the yard.
For the second straight game, the Vols blasted four home runs. All four of their long balls on Saturday were of the solo variety and came from four different players, marking the first time this season that UT has had four separate players homer in a game. Jackson Greer's seventh-inning homer was the first as a Volunteer for the Knoxville native who joined the team this season as a graduate transfer from ETSU. He is the 13th different player to homer for Tennessee this season.
At the halfway point of conference play, the Vols boast a 10-5 record, which is its best through 15 games since also going 10-5 in 2005, the last UT team to make it to the College World Series.
The Vols (29-8 // 10-5 SEC) will take on another in-state foe this coming Tuesday night when Tennessee Tech comes to town. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. and the game will be streamed on Watch ESPN and the ESPN app.