GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tennessee senior righty Zack Godley was determined to finish what he started.
After failing to hold a lead in the ninth inning last Sunday against Ole Miss, Godley made the most of his second chance Sunday afternoon against Florida. His 111-pitch, complete game effort lifted Tennessee to a 4-2 win over the Gators at McKethan Stadium.
The Vols (18-24, 6-15 SEC) snapped a six-game losing steak and avoided a series sweep behind Godley’s fourth complete game of the season.
“I find it big to be able to come in and go nine innings and help the team come away with the win,” Godley said. “I’m glad the guys behind me played great defense. They helped me out a lot today.”
Godley retired 14 of his previous 15 batters before walking left fielder Harrison Bader with one out in the ninth inning and the Vols up 4-2. That prompted a visit from Tennessee coach Dave Serrano.
“I told him I was already bald enough, gray enough and fat enough that I didn’t need any more,” Serrano said.
Said Godley: “I was hoping he wasn’t coming out to take me out because I didn’t want to leave the mound.”
Godley rewarded his coach’s faith by saving his biggest pitches for the end of the game. He retired shortstop Cody Dent on a pop up to third base, then jammed center fielder Richie Martin inside with a fastball. Martin’s excuse-me swing resulted in a short dribbler in front of home plate that catcher David Houser fired to first for the final out of the game.
“I’m glad he let me finish it,” Godley said. “Last week, we had a little bit of a rough going with Ole Miss, but I’m glad he let me finish today.”
Of Godley’s 111 pitches, 76 were for strikes. He allowed just two runs on seven hits with six strikeouts.
“My curve ball was pretty good today,” Godley said. “I was locating my fastball alright. I left it up a couple of times and that’s when they got some big hits, but then my curveball worked out pretty well because I could throw it where I wanted to, when I wanted to.”
Godley’s afternoon didn’t start so promising. Florida tagged the senior for two runs on three hits in the first inning. An RBI triple by Justin Shafer put the Gators up 1-0, and Vickash Ramjit belted an RBI single to extend UF’s lead to 2-0.
But Tennessee cut it to 2-1 in the second inning on catcher Ethan Bennett’s third homer of the season. The Vols then took the lead for good in the sixth, spoiling Florida sophomore lefty Bobby Poyner’s first SEC start of the season. First baseman Zach Luther doubled off Poyner to lead off the inning, then scored on freshman center fielder Derek Lance’s first hit of the season, an RBI double to right field. Lance moved to third on a groundout and then scored on a groundout by A.J. Simcox, putting the Vols up 3-2.
Tennessee added an insurance run in the seventh inning. Bennett led off the inning with a single off the left field wall, then left the game after re-aggravating a pulled quad. Pinch runner Heath Loyd moved to third and eventually scored on a passed ball, extending Tennessee’s lead to 4-2.
Serrano moved Bennett up to the cleanup spot Sunday, moving designated hitter Christian Stewart down to the seven hole.
“Ethan is going well right now and I wanted his bat in the middle of the lineup,” Serrano said. “It paid dividends for us.”
After leaving 24 batters on base in the first two games of the series, Tennessee left just three on base Sunday.
“It was a big win for us to salvage a game and move up a little bit in the SEC standings,” Serrano said.
Kevin Brockway is a freelance contributor.