FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — With his pitch count high and the game seemingly in hand, Tennessee right-hander Zack Godley did what he does best going into the ninth inning Friday night.
“I just throw until Coach tells me not to throw anymore,” Godley said.
Godley threw a 1-2-3 ninth inning, his fourth quick inning of the game, and the Vols had 13 hits off the SEC’s best pitching staff in an 8-3 victory over No. 14 Arkansas in front of 9,110 at Baum Stadium.
It was the league-leading fifth complete game for Godley (5-6), who threw 120 pitches, giving up four hits and two walks while striking out eight.
“Zack Godley was the story,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He just stuck it to us.”
Tennessee (20-26, 7-16 SEC) took the lead for good in the sixth inning when Ethan Bennett hit a two-RBI double to left-center. Bennett finished 3-for-5 with five RBIs, tying a team high.
“Those guys have some nasty pitches and I struck out two times, too, but I saw the ball well,” Bennett said.
The victory, Tennessee’s second league win in its past eight, boosts the Vols’ chances of qualifying for the SEC tournament with five games remaining.
“The win is huge,” Bennett said. “It definitely helps us out, getting this Friday night win, not only for record-sake, but for confidence.”
Tennessee’s confidence began to build in the third inning Friday night.
The Vols took a 1-0 lead off Arkansas starter Barrett Astin in the fourth inning off singles from Scott Price, Bennett and Vincent Jackson.
The Razorbacks (32-17, 15-9) led 2-1 on a two-run home run from Dominic Ficociello in the bottom of the fourth before Tennessee took the lead for good in the sixth.
The Vols scored a run in the seventh when Pierce Bily doubled and eventually scored on a suicide squeeze bunt from A.J. Simcox, and led 4-2.
After the Razorbacks pulled within 4-3 in the seventh, the Vols used a home run from Jackson to lead 5-3 and then scored three runs off four hits in the ninth.
It was the most runs and hits Arkansas has given up this season. The Razorbacks entered the game with an NCAA-leading 1.77 team ERA.
“This win is huge,” Serrano said. “I told the team before the game that this is one of the best atmospheres you can play in front of in college baseball and if we were going to have trouble getting excited about playing here then we had issues.
“I thought we handled it extremely well.”
Maddox went 3-for-5 and Jackson 2-for-5 for Tennessee, which will start junior right-hander Nick Williams (2-3, 4.94) against Arkansas’ right-hander Ryne Stanek (6-2, 1.87) in Saturday’s second game of the series.
“This is the best atmosphere we’ve played in all year, the most people we’ve played around and I’m glad I could come out and perform the way I did,” Godley said. “The defense played unbelievable tonight and our offense helped me out. I just wanted to put it in play and let my defense work and they were unreal tonight.”
Rick Harvey is a freelance contributor.