By Griffin Hadley
Eleventh-ranked Tennessee ignited the offense Saturday afternoon cruising to a 14-2 victory over third-ranked Florida at Lindsey Nelson Stadium
The Vols (22-10, 5-7 SEC) were able to find success at the plate after back-to-back days of offensive struggles. The Tennessee bats went for seven hits including three home runs in the contest.
There were a multitude of bright spots for the Vols in the series finale against the Gators (27-6, 9-3 SEC), but none were bigger than starting pitcher Drew Beam. Beam shoved from the bump for seven consecutive shutout innings until he allowed a two-run shot off the bat of Florida’s Luke Heyman.
Other than the long ball, the sophomore right hander pitched a gem, equaling his career high in strikeouts and only walking one. Beam allowed just four hits across seven innings and put up one of the most productive performances from a starting pitcher in SEC play so far this year.
“As the season continues, we get more comfortable on the mound,” said Beam. “We figure some things at practice and during bullpens. We had a mix of all three pitches today, that was the main part of the game.”
While Beam was busy getting the job done on the mound, the defense backed him up nicely in less-than-ideal conditions. In a cold and soggy environment, the Tennessee defense was able to back up Beam nicely going for zero errors. At shortstop Austin Jaslove made several nice plays filling in for Maui Ahuna to help keep Tennessee’s defense off the field throughout the contest.
Two games after tying a program record of 18 strikeouts the Vols were able to stay patient at the plate and capitalize on Florida’s struggles on the mound. In contrast to the numbers in game one, the Vols went for 18 walks in game three.
The Gators had high hopes for starting pitcher Jac Caglianone after two successful days at the plate for the dual threat sophomore. However, the Florida left hander went for just two-thirds of an inning, throwing six walks and allowing three runs in the bottom of the first. Caglianone struggled to find the zone and allowed the Vols to climb out to an early lead.
Florida’s bullpen struggled to find a rhythm as well, continuously allowing runs via walk throughout the afternoon. The Gators used six pitchers who went for 173 total pitches, only 73 were strikes. In contrast to the Vols went for just 112 total pitches in which 80 of them were strikes.
After capitalizing in the first, the Tennessee offense never looked back building on success at the plate and continuing to add to their lead. After back-to-back slow starts against the Gators, the Vols put up six runs in the first three innings and took an eight-run lead entering the fifth.
The star of the series finale at the plate was Griffin Merrit, going 3-4 with two home runs. After a 0-20 skid and being benched for the series finale at LSU last week, Merritt took the Gators by storm going for six RBIs in Saturday’s game. Merritt, the defending AAC player of the year, wasn’t going to stay quiet, and his production helped kick-start a big-time day for the Tennessee lineup.
“I enjoy being here, I enjoy playing here, and I want to help this team win,” said Merritt. “I feel like a big weight came off my shoulders and I can just go up there and control what I can control and that’s hit the ball hard.”
Tennessee found themselves in control the whole way through, playing with a different energy than the previous two games. The Vols brought a loose, joyful energy to game three and the shift in attitude showed on the field of play. ]
The Vols seemed to get a lift from starting catcher Cal Stark, whose energy in the lineup was visible, as the transfer showed great rapport with Beam on the field and went yard for a 2-run bomb in the third inning.
“It’s just relaxing a little bit,” said Stark referring to finding more success offensively in game three. “Sticking to your approach and not going outside of that, that is the big thing for us as a whole group and I think we did that really well.”
Merritt ended the ball game with a walk-off, three-run moonshot to close out the contest a half-inning early as the Vols took a twelve-run lead over the Gators. It only made sense for the graduate transfer to finish what he started after reigniting his bat after suffering from a slump the last several games.
Tennessee will be back in action Tuesday afternoon at home on Tuesday with first pitch scheduled for 6:30 P.M. EST. The game taking place at Lindsey Nelson Stadium can be viewed on SEC Network+.