Vols ‘smiling again’ after blowout of Gators to avoid sweep

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee sophomore pitcher Drew Beam racked up 10 strikeouts in seven innings Saturday afternoon as the No. 11 Volunteers defeated No. 3 Florida 14-2 in eight innings.

Tennessee's 14-2 thumping of Florida on Saturday afternoon inside a rain-drenched Lindsey Nelson Stadium was decided by the simplest of factors.

Volunteers starting pitcher Drew Beam was at his best, while Florida counterpart Jac Caglianone was at his worst.

Beam allowed four hits and two runs over seven innings for the 11th-ranked Vols, tallying 10 strikeouts in the process as Tennessee bounced back from Thursday night's 6-1 setback and Friday night's 9-3 defeat. The Vols improved to 22-10 overall and 5-7 in Southeastern Conference play, while the No. 3 Gators fell to 27-6 and 9-3.

"Nobody wants to be swept, so you have a little bit of determination when you go out there," Beam said. "You're going to give it your all, because game three is always an important one."

Beam helped Tennessee avoid a sweep for a second consecutive weekend, having started last Saturday's 14-7 triumph at No. 1 LSU. He has a 4-1 record and a 2.52 ERA through eight starts following his stifling of the Gators.

"He had a little bit of that attitude that he showed last year in those series that were 1-1 going into game three," Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said. "We made a couple of good plays behind him, too. It was a pretty good team effort, but obviously Drew was the shining star."

Caglianone, who played first base and went 2-for-5 with three runs scored Friday, faced eight batters Saturday and walked six of them. Tennessee took a 3-0 lead and batted around in the first inning without tallying a single hit, and the Vols kept pouring it on after Caglianone was pulled.

Cal Stark's two-run home run to left field in the third inning extended the lead to 6-0, and Griffin Merritt's two-run homer to left in the fourth made it 8-0. Merritt hit a three-run homer in the eighth that ended the game on the league's run-rule policy.

"Today was something this team needed," Merritt said. "We just played more loose. Expectations are part of it when you're a good team with good fans in kind of the limelight of baseball, at least in college. Today we just said, 'Let's play light. Let's have fun.'

"It was nice to see guys smiling again. We're all very good baseball players, but I feel like there have been times we have made the scene a little bigger than it needs to be. Today we embraced going out and playing as kids."

Tennessee will host Eastern Kentucky on Tuesday evening at 6:30 before continuing its taxing weekend schedule at No. 5 Arkansas. The Vols have lost three of four SEC series so far this season after winning nine of 10 last spring.

"This group is a bunch of fighters," Beam said. "We're still figuring things out as we go through the season, and I think we're figuring out who we are more and more every weekend and more and more every game. We're going to keep fighting."

Said Merritt: "If this team just keeps trending upwards, nobody in the country is going to want to see us in their regional if we're not hosting. Nobody is going to want to play us in Hoover."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.