Tennessee put the ball in senior Zack Godley's hand for the series finale at Florida on Sunday and he delivered in fine fashion.
After yielding two runs in the first inning, the 6-3 right-hander put eight straight zeroes up on the scoreboard to post his third consecutive complete game and lead the Volunteers to a 4-2 victory, their first in Gainesville since 2007.
"[Zack] started getting in the mode and he started [pitching] down. We let his fastball work for him and he had a good breaking ball," UT head coach Dave Serrano said. "That was a big game for us, a huge game for us. We needed to salvage that game after we weren't able to last weekend. On Sunday's he is our closer, he is our middle guy and he is our stopper.
"Our goal is to make the SEC Tournament and get to Hoover. This Sunday game is a big win for us. To salvage a win and move up a little bit goes a long way in what we are chasing."
The Bamberg, S.C., native finished strong by retiring 16 of the last 18 batters that he faced to become the first pitcher in the SEC with four complete games this season. He also leads the league with 84.1 innings pitched this year.
On Sunday, Godley pitched all nine innings for the third week in a row, striking out six and allowing just the two first-inning runs on seven hits and a pair of walks. He did not allow a leadoff baserunner all game en route to improving to 4-5 on the season.
Offensively, the Vols got a big boost from Ethan Bennett who was 2-for-3 with his third home run of the season while hitting out of the cleanup spot for the first time in his career. Freshman Derek Lance also had a big hit for the Big Orange, coming up with a clutch run-scoring double to record his first career hit and RBI on the same play.
"Ethan is going well right now and I wanted his bat in the middle of the lineup and so did the other coaches," Serrano said. "It paid dividends for us."
Bennett's round-tripper extended his hitting streak to a career-high tying seven games. During that stretch, he is hitting .455 (10-for-26) with four doubles, two triples, a home run, six runs scored and three RBIs. He is now hitting .327 on the season.
Florida jumped on the scoreboard early, getting an RBI triple from Justin Shafer and a run-scoring infield single deep to the hole at short by Vickash Ramjit to take a quick 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
The Vols got one of the runs back almost immediately when Bennett led off the next frame by blasting a 1-1 pitch deep into the bleachers in left for the 14th longball of his Tennessee career.
Neither team would do much over the next few innings until a leadoff double by UT's Zach Luther sparked a two-run frame for the Big Orange in the top of the sixth. Lance followed with a double of his own down the right-field line, bringing Luther in to tie the game for his first career RBI on his first career hit. Lance would move to third on a groundout before coming home to score and give the Vols a 3-2 lead on an RBI groundout by A.J. Simcox.
Tennessee would add to its advantage in the top of the seventh as two singles to start the stanza and a sac bunt put two runners in scoring position. Although the Gators got a big strikeout for the second out, a passed ball allowed the lead runner to score from third and push UT's lead to two runs at 4-2.
From there it was all Godley as he allowed just two baserunners and none past first base from the fifth inning on.
The win for Tennessee was its first in Gainesville since May 19, 2007, when it beat the Gators, 11-7, in the regular-season finale to clinch a spot in the SEC Tournament. That stands as the last time the Big Orange made the trip to Hoover.
The Volunteers will return to Rocky Top where they will open a five-game homestand with a 6 p.m. contest against MTSU on Tuesday, April 30.
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