KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — No. 21 Tennessee used a four-run seventh to run away from UNC Asheville, completing the midweek sweep over the Bulldogs with a 7-2 victory Wednesday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Junior lefty Will Heflin (1-0) picked up his first win of the 2019 campaign, dealing 3.2 scoreless innings of relief for the Big Orange with a career-high eight strikeouts and no walks. The Morristown, Tenn., native retired his first 10 batters in order, including an immaculate inning against the top of the Bulldogs’ order in the fifth.
Asheville left-hander Joe Sondock (0-1) was credited with the loss, surrendering a pair of runs with one earned across 1.2 relief innings. The freshman totaled two walks and a strikeout in his ninth appearance of the season.
Sophomore JUCO product Alerick Soularie (1-for-3, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI) tagged a two-run shot to highlight Tennessee’s offensive output – his fifth home run over the past five games. Jay Charleston (2-for-4, R, 2B), Connor Pavolony(2-for-3, 2 2B, R, RBI) and Ricky Martinez (2-for-4, R, RBI) each logged multi-hit efforts to pace the Vols at the plate.
UNC Asheville (5-11) got on the board in the top of the second with a solo homer off the bat of Brandon Lankford (1-for-4, HR, R, RBI), the Bulldogs’ top slugger entering Wednesday night. The sophomore launched a leadoff bomb to left field for his seventh of the season, putting UNCA ahead 1-0 in the early going.
Tennessee (17-1) evened it up with a run in the bottom of the third, as Charleston scored from second on a fielding error by Bulldog first baseman Jake Madole.
Asheville jumped back in front in the top of the fourth when shortstop Carmine Pagano (2-for-4, 2B, RBI) drove in a run with a single through the left side. Trailing 2-1 with a pair of runners on base, sophomore outfielder Evan Russell robbed a potential three-run homer for the second out of the inning before a flyout to right field ended the frame. The Bulldogs would not score for the remainder of the contest.
The Vols capitalized on a couple of Asheville miscues to gain their first lead of the night in the bottom of the fifth. Pavolony drew a full-count, two-out, bases-loaded walk to tie it 2-2 before Max Ferguson came home on a passed ball to give UT a one-run lead.
Tennessee plated four runs in the bottom of the seventh to put the game out of reach, taking a 7-2 advantage over the Bulldogs that would hold for the rest of the game. Soularie belted a two-run shot to left center for his fifth homer in the past six days, followed by back-to-back RBI hits from Martinez and Jake Rucker (1-for-2, 2B, RBI) to give the Vols a five-run edge.
Relievers Tanner Kohlhepp, Daniel Vasquez and Elijah Pleasants closed it out for UT, combining for 1.2 innings of scoreless relief. Pleasants sealed the win with a strikeout, the 14th of the night for the Tennessee pitching staff which matched the third-highest total for the team this season.
UT begins its Southeastern Conference slate this weekend as the Vols hit the road for Auburn. The Vols’ 17-1 record entering SEC play is the best in program history, as well as the best start for UT overall since opening the 1997 campaign 18-1.
IMMACULATE INNING: Junior lefty Will Heflin came on to relieve Chase Wallace and accomplished a rare feat for Tennessee in the top of the fifth. The Morristown, Tenn., native tossed an ‘immaculate inning’ for the Vols – striking out three-consecutive batters on just nine pitches. Heflin faced the top of Asheville’s order, fanning outfielders Wade Chandler and Dominic Freeberger on swinging Ks before catching Greg Gasparro looking for his ninth-consecutive strike.
RUSSELL ROBBERY: With momentum shifting in Asheville’s favor in the top of the fourth, junior catcher Andrew Friedholm stepped to the plate with two Bulldogs on base and a 2-1 lead. The backstop sent the 2-2 offering from Chase Wallace deep towards the porches in left field, but sophomore outfielder Evan Russell pulled off a web gem – scaling the wall to rob a potential three-run homer. A flyout to right ended the frame, and UNC Asheville would not score for the rest of the night.
STARTING SILLY: Freshman right hander Chase Silseth made his first collegiate start Wednesday evening, giving up one earned run across three innings of work for his longest outing of the season. The Farmington, N.M., native fanned a career-high four batters while allowing one walk and two hits.
UP NEXT: Tennessee travels to Auburn, Ala. for a three-game set with the 15th-ranked Tigers to open up conference play. The series is scheduled for Friday through Sunday, March 15-17 at Plainsman Park, with first pitch Friday night set for 7 p.m.