No. 9 Tennessee Defeats UNC Asheville in Home Opener

Photo Credit: Ian Cox/ Tennessee Athletics

By Riley Haltom

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The new-look No. 9 Vols took the field in a new-look Lindsey-Nelson
Stadium for the 2024 home opener against UNC Asheville, coming away with a 3-2 victory. The win lifts Tennessee to 3-1 on the season.

Asheville took an early lead after scoring one on starting pitcher Derek Schaefer, but Tennessee responded quickly. A second-inning solo home run from the bat of Kavares Tears tied up the game. Head coach Tony Vitello reflected on Tears’s big night.

“We’ve all seen him hit balls a long way to the right side, and it was nice to see him hit it to the right side and move the runner. But that’s a really good reflection of his approach when he’s able to use the whole field.”

The crowd of over 4600, a Lindsey-Nelson Stadium home opener record, was treated to another exciting inning as the Vols scored again in the third, this time off a Christian Moore RBI single. However, UNC Asheville would tie it up in the fifth frame with a Ben Hemphill solo shot.

Led by the arm of redshirt freshman RHP Austin Hunley, who finished the night with two
strikeouts, no walks, and no runs conceded through three innings, the Vols held the Bulldogs scoreless through the last four innings. Coach Vitello was impressed with Hunley’s performance.

“He knows how to compete on game day. We were just having a conversation with our guys. There’s a big difference between scrimmages and games… You can watch as many bullpens as you want and scrimmages as you want – but you don’t really know what you have until game days because guys get emotional and do different things. He seems to be able to compete the way he needs to on game day.”

With his brother Sean Hunley, pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays and VFL, in attendance, the Mt. Juliet native earned the win. Austin reflected on the feelings of getting the win.

“My freshman year, I’d get really nervous before going out there and before scrimmages, first time facing college hitters,” Hunley said. “Today, I kept my composure and just played baseball, it’s all you can do.”

The Vols are back in action on Wednesday for an in-state contest with ETSU in Lindsey-Nelson Stadium.