STATESBORO, Ga. – A 12th inning grand slam by senior shortstop Liam Spence punctuated a 7-3 victory for the 16th-ranked Tennessee baseball team on Sunday, as the Vols completed a series sweep of Georgia Southern to start the 2021 season.
Spence’s 12th-inning heroics broke a 3-3 tie that had held for seven innings, as both team’s pitching staffs frustrated hitters throughout the afternoon.
Elijah Pleasants gave the Vols (3-0) a quality start in his first action of the season, tossing five solid innings. The junior right hander gave up three runs (two earned) while scattering five hits and not issuing any walks. Other than allowing consecutive extra-base hits in the fourth, the Clarksville, Tennessee, native was in control throughout.
Preseason All-American Jackson Leath was even more impressive in 5.2 innings of scoreless relief. The senior righty gave up just three hits and had six strikeouts to keep the Eagles from salvaging a game in the series. Fellow senior right hander Sean Hunley ended up with the win after striking out four batters in the final 1.1 innings.
Junior third baseman Jake Rucker had a pair of hits, as did ETSU transfer Jackson Greer in his Tennessee debut, including a single to start the Vols’ 12th inning rally. Jordan Beck had another big hit as well, blasting a 2-run homer to put UT up 3-1 in the third inning.
The Vols opened the scoring in the second inning when Trey Lipscomb drew a walk with the bases loaded, however, a base running mistake ended the threat and cost the Big Orange a chance to do more damage.
The Eagles tied the game in the bottom half of the inning, taking advantage of a fielding error with two outs that extended the inning. After stealing second, Jason Swan scored on a Matt Anderson single to tie the game at one.
Tennessee regained its lead in the third on Beck’s 2-run blast to left field. It was the second long ball of the series for the talented sophomore slugger.
The Eagles answered back to tie the game at three with a 2-run homer of their own in the bottom of the fourth, courtesy of Noah Ledford.
Georgia Southern had a golden opportunity to win the game in the ninth with runners on the corners and just one out, but Leath got pinch hitter Mitchell Golden to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play to send the game to extras.
After two scoreless innings in extras, Spence decided it was time to go home when he hammered a 1-1 pitch over the wall in dead center field for a grand slam that put the Vols ahead 7-3 and effectively ended the game. It was Spence’s first homer of the season and the second of his UT career.
After letting the first two batters of the inning reach, Hunley struck out the next three Eagles’ hitters to ice the game.
Tennessee returns to Knoxville for its home opener on Tuesday evening against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Vols and Golden Lions will also square off on Wednesday. Both games are slated to begin at 4:30 p.m. and can be seen on WatchESPN.com and the ESPN app.
Aussie Power: Liam Spence, who hails from Geelong, Australia, played hero for the Vols with his game-winning grand slam in the top of the 12th inning. It was the first slam in Spence’s collegiate career and his second home run since joining the Vols’ program in 2019 out of Central Arizona College.
BULLPEN COMES UP BIG: After a solid starting performance from Elijah Pleasants, Tennessee’s bullpen was absolutely dominant. The senior duo of Jackson Leath and Sean Hunley combined to throw seven shutout innings. Leath and Hunley gave up just five hits and struck out 10 along the way.
SWEEP, SWEEP, SWEEP: With this weekend’s three wins, the Vols have now recorded a series sweep to start the year in three consecutive seasons.
FEBRUARY WIN STREAK EXTENDED: Tennessee has been unbeatable in the month of February over the past three seasons. In that span, the Vols are 23-0 and have outscored their opponents 191-33. UT’s last February loss came against UNC Greensboro on Feb. 25, 2018.