The Bulldogs won the opening game of a weekend league series for the first time in four weekends. MSU improved to 3-5 in series openers. The Bulldogs have now won at least one game in seven of eight league series this year.
Offensively, MSU pounded out 15 hits and scored its most runs in a conference game this season. Earlier this year, the Bulldogs beat Auburn 15-8 on a Saturday afternoon at Dudy Noble Field. After breaking a 2-2 tie with the five-run fifth inning, the Maroon and White blew the contest wide open with six scores in the visitors’ portion of the seventh inning.
For MSU, it was also the most runs scored against Tennessee in 72 career matchups. The victory margin was also the largest ever against the Vols, bettering a 13-3 win in 1990.
“We took great swings tonight,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “That is the third game in a row where we have swung the bats like that. It’s a good start to the weekend for us.”
The victory improved MSU to 27-18 overall and 9-13 in league play. Tennessee fell to 22-21 and 5-17. The Bulldogs also moved closer in a tight Western Division race. The win moved MSU within one-half game of both Ole Miss and Auburn for third place in the division standings.
“We were trying to be aggressive early in the count,” Vickerson said. “I was really proud of Luis (Pollorena) tonight. He battled and gave us a chance to win. Our team as a whole had a good plan at the plate. We did a good job of executing it.”
The Bulldogs scored a pair of runs in the first inning. After back-to-back outs, Jarrod Parks extended his hit streak to 18 games with a two-out single. Vickerson followed with a single. After a wild pitch placed two runners in scoring position, Brent Brownlee connected for a two-run single.
The Volunteers answered with single scores in the first and third innings. An RBI-double by Ethan Bennett tied the game 2-2. MSU starter Pollorena bounced back with back-to-back outs to snuff that thread.
Making his first career start, Pollorena (6-3) garnered the win. The sophomore left-hander threw 5.1 innings, scattering 11 hits and allowing five runs (all earned). Caleb Reed entered in relief and worked the Bulldogs out a tight spot in the sixth inning. Devin Jones threw the ninth inning.
“Pollo did exactly what we needed him to do tonight,” Cohen said. “He filled up the strike zone tonight. He’s a great athlete and does such a good job of controlling the short game and the running game. That was important because Tennessee can put a charge in the ball.”
In the fifth inning, Ryan Collins started things with a leadoff single. Wes Thigpen followed with a bunt attempt which resulted in one of four UT errors in the contest. A sacrifice-fly by C.T. Bradford scored Collins with the go-ahead run. After back-to-back walks to Cody Freeman and Parks, Vickerson made the Vols pay with a three-run double off the outfield wall. An RBI-single by Jaron Shepherd capped the game-deciding at-bat.
The Vols answered with three runs on three hits in the home half of the sixth inning. In relief, Reed entered and got a sacrifice fly and strikeout to work the Maroon and White back out of the danger zone.
In the seventh inning, the Bulldogs blew the contest open with six runs on five hits. In this at-bat, Bradford had an RBI-bunt single, while Parks drove in a pair with a two-run single.
The Bulldogs plated a pair of insurance scores in the ninth inning. Batting again with the bases loaded, Vickerson lined a two-run double down the left field line.
For the Bulldogs, Parks and Vickerson each had five hits. Vickerson drove in a season-high five runs. For Vickerson, it was his fifth three-hit game of the season, while Parks has had three such games and a team-high 21 multi-hit games.
Brownlee and Frazier each added multiple hits. Brownlee has now driven in nine runs in his last three games.
Tennessee finished with 13 hits. Khayyan Norfolk and Josh Liles each had a game-best four hits. UT starter Steven Gruver (4-6) lasted six innings and took the loss. Gruver allowed eight hits and eight runs (six earned), with six strikeouts and four walks.
The series resumes Saturday with a 3 p.m. CT first pitch. MSU is scheduled to start junior left-hander Nick Routt (0-2, 3.81 ERA), while UT is scheduled to start sophomore right-hander Nick Blount (1-2, 5.57). The Sunday series finale starts at 1 p.m. CT and will be televised regionally by SportSouth.