Opening Day of the Southeastern Conference baseball schedule is bound to bring a few surprises, given the relative competitive balance of this strong league. But few thought the biggest surprise would be coming out of Gainesville, Florida on Friday.
That’s where the Florida Gators — enjoying their first week as the #1 team in the collegiate rankings — were set to host the Tennessee Volunteers, who’ve been struggling a bit in their pre-conference schedule despite some rosy preseason forecasts. And with Gator ace Logan Shore set to be on the hill for the hosts, prospects for a Tennessee victory were not encouraging in the slightest.
But not only did the Vols offset Shore with an offensive attack that launched 4 home runs, Tennessee countered even more impressively with a pitcher — Bret Marks — who carried a no-hitter into the 9th inning. The result was a 6-3 Tennessee triumph in the weekend series opener, and nobody was happier about it than Vol coach Dave Serrano.
“Any time you win in the SEC on a Friday night, it’s a big win,” Serrano said. “We were led by Bret Marks and by four guys who took some aggressive swings and hit balls over the fence. I know what our coaches have been preaching to our offense and I’m proud of how we really stung some balls. But tonight was about Bret Marks. It’s tough to throw no-hitters, even tougher in this league against the No. 1 team in the country like Florida. I’m very proud of his performance and how he stayed in character. It was just a good win for us tonight.”
Shore (now 3-1) has been lights out for Florida in his previous starts, but Tennessee jumped on him for 4 runs in the first inning when a trio of Vols hammered long balls. With one out, A. J. Simcox ripped his first Tennessee homer to left, just ahead of a Christin Stewart single and a fielder’s choice for the second out. First baseman Nathaniel Maggio then crushed a 2-run blast (also his first as a Vol) to right, followed by another solo shot to right by designated hitter Andrew Lee that banged off the foul pole, and the visitors owned a sudden 4-0 advantage.
In the 3rd frame, Stewart clobbered his 4th round-tripper of the season to make it 5-0 Tennessee, and Marks was ready to take it from there, crediting his battery mates and his fielders for giving him confidence against one of the nation’s top-hitting squads.
“When the guys start swinging the bat like I know they’re capable of, it made it feel easy,” Marks said. “For me, Benito [Santiago] and [David] Houser were awesome behind the dish. The defense made some great plays behind me. The guys did a great job and I couldn’t be happier for them.”
Marks (2-1) spun 8 hitless innings with 8 strikeouts, and the Vols gave him another run to work with in the top of the 8th when Maggio doubled and Lee singled him home. The senior righthander from Roswell, Georgia took his no-no into the bottom of the 9th, but Florida’s Dalton Guthrie led off with a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield. Marks issued a walk to Richie Martin before departing for the evening, and Harrison Bader greeted Vol reliever Andy Cox with a single that loaded the bases, still with nobody out.
Josh Tobias hit into a fielder’s choice, but a Tennessee throwing error on the play allowed the Gators to cut the lead to 6-2. J. J. Schwarz then singled to put runners at the corners for the hosts, and Serrano went to the bullpen again for Lee. After a classic 12-pitch battle with Buddy Reed, the Gator outfielder singled up the middle to make it 6-3. Then, Lee induced a game-ending double play, and Tennessee (8-6) had its win over Florida (16-3).
Gator coach Kevin O’Sullivan had high praise for the performance of Marks.
“He was outstanding,” O’Sullivan said. “He was really good and he sunk the ball. His numbers were really good coming in, and he did exactly what he intends to do, and that’s to throw sinkers down in the zone. Tennessee’s defense played pretty well too for the most part.”
Serrano was thrilled with the offense the Vols provided against Shore, who came into the contest with a 23-inning scoreless streak.
“We took aggressive at-bats and I credit my coaches who have been showing these guys film, coming up with a plan with them, and it’s about trust,” Serrano said. “Our guys are trusting them and sticking to the process. We beat a very good pitcher tonight who hadn’t given up a run all year-long and we dropped four on him in the first inning. Again, I’m very proud of this team for rebounding off of Wednesday’s tough performance as a team (an 11-8 loss to Morehead State), traveling all day Thursday and on a Friday night, we showed up to play.”
Maggio and Lee each had 2 hits and 2 RBIs for the Vols. Stewart and Vincent Jackson also collected 2 safeties apiece. Lee’s save was his 3rd of the season.
Three other SEC series openers — Arkansas at #5 Vanderbilt, Alabama at #22 Mississippi State, and Missouri at Georgia — were rained out. They’ll try it again on Saturday.
In other collegiate action around the country Friday…
Hunter Melton belted a grand slam and a 2-run double to drive in all of his team’s runs as #6 Texas A&M (19-0) remained undefeated by downing Auburn (13-5) 6-2 in its SEC opener at College Station. Melton drilled his homer with a full count and the bases loaded to give the Aggies a 4-1 advantage in the 2nd, and that was all that A&M starter Grayson Long (4-0) needed to give the hosts their best season-opening record since the 1989 squad was 26-0… #4 LSU (17-1) rode a 3-for-3, 2-RBI effort by Conner Hale to a 6-4 win over Ole Miss (9-8) in the league opener for both schools. Alex Bregman hit his 4th homer for the Tigers to back the starting pitching of Jared Poche’ (5-0), who went 5 frames of 2-run ball for LSU… #7 South Carolina (15-3) ripped Kentucky (13-4) 10-1 in another SEC duel as Max Schrock drove in 5 runs with a triple and HR and scored 3 times to back a strong start by winning hurler Wil Crowe (3-1), who allowed just 1 hit and fanned 10 in 7 innings…
In ACC play, Brendon Hayden drew a 4-pitch, bases-loaded, walkoff base on balls in the bottom of the 9th as Virginia Tech (8-9, 2-2) stunned #3 Virginia (12-3, 2-2) 2-1. Hayden singled in the Hokies’ only other run of the game in the 1st, and starter Sean Keselica (3-1) went the distance for Tech, scattering 4 hits and allowing only an unearned run in the 1st, driven home by Virginia’s Matt Thaiss… Pittsburgh (7-8, 2-2) upset #11 North Carolina (11-6, 2-2) in a 12-9 slugfest as Charles LeBlanc swatted a bases-loaded single that cleared the sacks in the 7th and broke a 9-9 deadlock. LeBlanc had 5 RBIs in the game and Alex Kowalczyk plated 3 more for the Panthers… Wake Forest (13-6, 3-1) knocked off #21 Florida State (15-4, 3-1) 4-1 as Matt Pirro (5-0) and Parker Dunshee combined to offset 8 walks by only allowing 4 hits. Dunshee ended Seminole threats in the 6th, 7th, and 8th with strikeouts, collecting 7 in 3.1 frames of relief… Georgia Tech (13-4, 3-1) topped Duke (13-4, 1-3) 5-2 as Matthew Gorst and Zac Ryan combined for 3.1 innings of scoreless relief and Daniel Spingola had 3 hits, a stolen base, and a run scored… David Thompson smacked a walkoff solo HR in the bottom of the 10th to give Miami FL (13-6, 2-2) a 3-2 decision over NC State (10-5, 2-2)… Boston College at Louisville and Notre Dame at Clemson were rained out…
Mitchell Traver (3-0) went 7 strong innings and Riley Ferrell picked up his 6th save as #2 TCU (12-2) won its Big 12 opener with Baylor (6-10) 3-1; Cody Jones was 4-for-4 with a stolen base and an RBI for the Horned Frogs… Connor Macalla‘s 10th-inning walkoff sacrifice fly (his first career RBI) gave #18 Texas (12-6, 1-0) a 4-3 triumph over West Virginia (7-7, 0-1)… Bubba Derby (2-1) hurled 8 frames of scoreless ball with 11 Ks as San Diego State (15-3) battered #24 Texas Tech (12-5) 9-0, getting 2 hits and 3 RBIs from Ty France… Kansas (7-11) nipped Michigan (10-7) 6-5 as Connor McKay went 3-for-5 with a solo HR and a double… Nate Griep fired 7 shutout frames and Clayton Dalrymple drove in 2 runs as Kansas State (9-8) blanked Missouri State (9-5) 4-0… J. J. Kitaoka doubled home the game-winner in the 4th inning as Hawaii (7-11) edged Oklahoma (13-8) 2-1…
California (14-3, 1-0) blitzed #8 Oregon (13-5, 0-1) 9-3 in its Pac-12 opener as Chris Paul ripped a double and his 4th home run… #13 Southern Cal (16-2, 1-0) trounced Washington State (11-6, 0-1) 10-3 as Bobby Stahel was 4-for-5 and scored 4 times and Timmy Robinson knocked in 3 runs… James Kaprielian (4-1) struck out 10 over 7 scoreless innings as #14 UCLA (13-4, 1-0) shut out Washington (12-6, 0-1) 2-0… Caleb Hamilton‘s RBI single in the top of the 9th plated the game’s only run as Oregon State (15-3, 1-0) nipped #12 Arizona State (10-6, 0-1) 1-0; Andrew Moore twirled 7.1 scoreless frames for the Beavers, who outlasted 8 shutout frames from the Sun Devils’ Seth Martinez to score the winning tally off a pair of relievers… Scott Kingery was 3-for-5 with a double, triple, and 2 RBIs as Arizona (16-4, 1-0) pounded Utah (4-12, 0-1) 10-5…
Jordan Farris delivered a walk off RBI single in the bottom of the 9th to cap a 2-run rally and lead Wichita State (6-10) past #17 UC Santa Barbara (11-5) 3-2… Dylan Moore slammed a pair of home runs — his 7th and 8th of the season — and went 3-for-4 with 4 RBIs as #9 Central Florida (15-4) hammered Fairfield (0-6) 11-1; Tommy Williams hit for the cycle and plated 4 runs for the Knights… #10 Rice (13-6, 4-0 in C-USA) edged Louisiana Tech (8-7, 0-1) 4-2 with an 8th-inning rally keyed by Tristan Gray‘s sacrifice fly and Charlie Warren‘s RBI single… Aaron Hauge fired 8 shutout frames and Ryan Sabo belted his first career homer as Southern Illinois (3-13) stunned #19 Illinois (12-4-1) 2-0… and #25 Houston (11-7) walloped Buffalo (3-8) 9-1 as Josh Vidales went 3-for-3 and drove in 2 runs and Andrew Lantrip (4-1) struck out 12 over 7.2 innings.