KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Athletics) – Four huge home runs, including three from senior Evan Russell, powered No. 3 Tennessee to an 8-4 victory over in-state and SEC rival No. 2 Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Russell tied the single-game program record for the second time this season with three massive homers. The Lexington, Tennessee, native saved his best for the last, blasting a grand slam with the Vols trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Russell finished the day 3-for-3 with a walk and a career high six runs batted in for the Big Orange.
Connor Pavolony hit the other long ball for UT, his second of the season, to put the Vols ahead 1-0 in the fourth inning. Russell hit his first blast of the game one batter later to put Tennessee up 2-0. The back-to-back homers were the first for the Vols since Andre Lipcius and Alerick Soularie did it in a win over Lipscomb on April 9, 2019.
Senior left hander Will Heflin was outstanding on the mound for the Vols, tossing seven strong innings to keep UT in striking distance. The Morristown, Tennessee, native scattered five hits and allowed four runs, but just one was earned. The duo of Sean Hunley and Kirby Connell pitched two scoreless innings to finish the game, with Hunley earning the win to improve to 5-2 on the year.
After UT (29-7 // 10-4 SEC) took its 2-0 lead in the fourth, Vanderbilt was able to take advantage of a costly throwing error that extended the sixth inning when CJ Rodriguez hit a three-run homer to put the Commodores ahead 3-2. Vandy made it 4-2 with a solo shot from Jayson Gonzalez in the top of the seventh.
Russell’s second home run of the night cut the deficit to just a run before the Big Orange struck for five runs in the bottom of the eighth to take an 8-4 lead. Connell retired the side in order in the ninth to slam the door and help the Vols even the series at a game apiece.
The rubber game between the Vols and Commodores will begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday and be streamed live on SEC Network+ and the ESPN app.
RUSSELL BOMBS MAKE MORE HISTORY: With his second three-homer game this season, Evan Russell became the first player in program history to hit three home runs in a single game on multiple occasions. Russell also had three jacks in Tennessee’s 9-8 win over LSU back on March 27.
HEFLIN AFTER A LOSS: Both times UT has lost a series opener this season, Will Heflin has come through with a big-time performance on Saturday to help lead the Vols to a win. After Tennessee dropped its Friday-night game at Alabama a few weeks ago, Heflin turned in 5.2 solid innings, striking out five while allowing just one run as the Big Orange rallied late to win in extra innings.