KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- An explosive offensive performance and a gritty effort in the circle from Rainey Gaffin boosted No. 19 Tennessee to a thrilling 8-7 victory over No. 10 Texas A&M in the series opener between the two teams on Friday night at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.
Gaffin got the start and struck out five Aggies in 6.1 innings of work to earn her seventh win while the bats provided excitement throughout, recording 13 hits on the night, the most for UT in any SEC game this season.
Eight players had hits and five drove in runs for the Volunteers in the win, led by a three-hit, two-RBI performance from Gaffin. Meghan Gregg, Aubrey Leach and Gretchen Aucoin also had multiple hits for the game.
Despite the strong offensive performance from Tennessee, it was Texas A&M (31-7, 5-5 SEC) who struck first, scoring two runs in the top of the third inning on a single through the left side by Ashley Walters. Keeli Milligan and Kaitlyn Alderink both scored on the play after reaching on back-to-back, one-out singles earlier in the inning.
The Vols (29-10, 8-5 SEC) got the bats going in the bottom of the fourth, plating two runs on three hits to tie the game. Lexi Overstreet led off the inning with a walk and Gregg followed with a double to put runners on second and third with no outs. One batter later, Gaffin delivered with a single through the right side of the infield to score both runners and tie the game at two. UT had a chance to take the lead later in the inning but Brooke Vines grounded out to shortstop to leave the bases loaded.
Tennessee continued its hot hitting in the fifth inning, exploding for five runs on seven hits to take its first lead of the game. Overstreet added to her team-leading home run total with a two-run blast and Shaliyah Geathers ended her five-game hitless streak with a two-run single up the middle to make it 6-2 Vols. Vines drove in Geathers to cap off the scoring in the inning and give Gaffin a five-run cushion heading into the sixth inning.
The Aggies trimmed the lead to 7-3 with an RBI single from Riley Sartain in the top of the sixth after Walters and Kristen Cuyos led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Gaffin was able to limit the damage, however, getting Alderink to fly out to center field with the bases loaded to end the inning and keep the lead at four.
The Big Orange added another insurance run, which would turn out to be the game-winner, in the home half of the sixth thanks to a sacrifice fly by Aucoin, bumping the UT lead to five heading into the seventh.
Despite trailing by five entering the final inning, Texas A&M put together a late rally to cut the lead to just one. Tori Vidales doubled down the line to lead off the inning and the Aggies went on to load the bases with only one out after a single and an error.
April Ryan cleared the bases with a triple to left field to cut the lead to 8-6 before the Vols brought in Erin Gabriel to close the game. Gabriel struck out the first batter she faced, but gave up an RBI single to Samantha Show one batter later, allowing another run to score. Fortunately for Tennessee, CJ McClain made a great play in center field to throw out Show for the final out as she was attempting to reach second base on the play.
Gaffin earned the win for UT, improving her record to 8-3 while Gabriel picked up her first save of the year. Kayla Ober was the losing pitcher for the Aggies, picking up her first loss of the season after giving up five runs in relief.
With the win, the Vols remained perfect at home, running their record to 14-0 at Lee Stadium. They also won their fifth game in the last seven tries against a ranked opponent after starting the year 0-7 against ranked teams.