KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A shutdown outing from the pitching staff and a two-run homer from Drew Gilbert helped propel Tennessee to a 3-1 victory over Liberty to claim the Knoxville Regional title Sunday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
With the win, Tennessee advances to the Super Regional stage of the NCAA Tournament (which was introduced in 1999) for just the third time in program history and first time since 2005. Next weekend’s Super Regional in Knoxville will mark the first time that Tennessee has ever hosted a Super Regional.
While it was five home runs and nine total runs scored that powered the Vols to Saturday’s win over Liberty, Sunday’s win was made possible by standout performances on the mound from seniors Will Heflin and Sean Hunley.
Getting the start, Heflin went 5.1 innings and tied his career high with eight strikeouts, allowing four hits. Hunley took over and threw the final 3.2 innings of the game, striking out five and allowing only one hit to earn his eighth save of the year.
As compared to its combined 21 hits in its first two games of the Knoxville Regional, Tennessee had a quiet night offensively with six hits as a team, which came from six different players, but got some big hits when it needed them most.
After a scoreless two and a half innings between to start the game, the Vols got the scoring started in the bottom of the third inning with a two-out RBI single from Jake Rucker to score Max Ferguson, who doubled down the left-field line one batter earlier.
Two innings later in the bottom of the fifth, Drew Gilbert continued his hot weekend and extended Tennessee’s lead to 3-0 with a two-run home run that cleared the video board in right-center field. The homer turned out to be the game-winning hit for UT.
Liberty quickly responded to Gilbert’s homer with its only run of the day, as an RBI fielder’s choice by Trey McDyre allowed Aaron Anderson to beat out a throw at home plate. After Heflin struck out the next batter, Hunley took over with one out and runners on first and second and preceded to strike out the next two batters, putting an end to Liberty’s most serious threat of the night.
The Vols will now wait to find out their Super Regional opponent as No. 14 seed Oregon and LSU battle it out in Eugene for the right to travel to Knoxville.
ALL-REGIONAL TEAM: Five Vols were named to the Knoxville All-Regional team, which was selected by a 16-member voting panel of media. Connor Pavolony, Luc Lipcius, Liam Spence, Drew Gilbert and Camden Sewell all received recognition, while Gilbert was named the regional’s Most Outstanding Player.
BUSY WEEKEND FOR GILBERT: With his two-run shot in the fifth inning, Drew Gilbert became just the second Vol in the last 10 years to record three straight games with a home run. The first was Luc Lipcius, who accomplished the feat earlier this season with homers in three straight games against Kentucky.