KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Five home runs and a strong NCAA postseason debut from starting pitcher Blade Tidwell gave No. 3 seed Tennessee a 9-3 victory over Liberty at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Saturday night.
Liam Spence homered in the first and second innings, while Luc Lipcius launched solo shots in the second and third innings and Drew Gilbert added a solo home run in the third inning as the Vols took a 7-0 lead through the opening three frames.
The Flames couldn't handle Tidwell's heat, as the freshman right-handed pitcher recorded three strikeouts, while allowing just four hits and no earned runs through 5.2 innings of work on the mound. Camden Sewell earned the save for Tennessee, allowing just two hits and no runs, while striking out four batters over the final three innings.
Spence went 3-for-5 from the plate with a pair of home runs and four RBIs on the night. Lipcius tied a career high with three runs scored and was 2-for-3 on the night, blasting two solo homers over the wall for a pair of RBI. Gilbert launched a home run to center field in the third inning, his second homer in as many days. He slo scored two runs and drew a walk.
In the first inning, Spence blasted a leadoff home run to right field to start the night for the Vols. Another solo shot, this time by Lipcius in the top of the second inning, gave Tennessee an early 2-0 lead.
Spence homered to left center in the second inning, his second of the game, to score Pete Derkay and Connor Pavolony and give the Big Orange a 5-0 lead.
Gilbert, following his walk-off grand slam on Friday night against Wright State, sent a solo blast off the batter's eye in the third inning. Just two at bats later, Lipcius' second home run of the day cleared the batter's eye in center field. It was his 15th long ball of the year, giving him the team lead.
Tennessee's five home runs through the first three innings marked its most in a NCAA Tournament game in program history, besting the previous mark of four against Stanford in the 1995 College World Series. Each team went scoreless in the fourth and fifth innings before two UT errors in the bottom of the sixth allowed Liberty to tally three unearned runs to break up the shutout.
Facing a 7-3 deficit with runners on first and second in the seventh, Sewell recorded a strikeout and then got Liberty's Trey McDyre to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning and get the Vols out of the jam.
The Vols added to their lead in the top of the eighth, as Derkay's two RBI single to right field scored Gilbert and Lipcius, increasing UT's lead back to six.
With the win, Tennessee advances to Sunday's regional final and will play the winner of Sunday's elimination game between Duke and Liberty at 2 p.m. The second game of the day is scheduled for a 6 p.m. start and the Vols would advance to the NCAA Super Regional with a win.
DADDY HAT OUT EARLY AND OFTEN: With five home runs in Saturday's win over Liberty, Tennessee set a new NCAA Tournament program record for home runs in a game. The previous record of four homers was set on June 6, 1995, in a College World Series matchup against Stanford.
Collectively, the Vols have racked up 91 home runs on the season, the second most in a single season in program history.
CLUTCH HITTING: In Saturday's win, six of Tennessee's nine runs were scored with two outs. The Vols finished with four two-out hits on the night.
GOING, GOING, GONE - REPEAT: Spence and Lipcius, each with two home runs, became the second and third players in program history to hit two homers in a single NCAA Tournament game, tying Scott Schroeffel's pair of home runs versus Stanford on June 6, 1995.