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College baseball notebook: Tennessee's prodigious home run hitting on display against Auburn

It's midseason and, well, Tennessee's offense is in midseason form.

The Volunteers hit 14 home runs in a weekend series win at Auburn, with six in the second game and six more in the third.

“It's a saying I've heard since I was little: hitting is contagious,” said Cal Stark, who homered twice Sunday and was among eight Vols to connect in the series. “We showed it these past two games. Whenever everybody starts clicking on all cylinders, it keeps rolling like these last two games, and it makes it extra fun in the dugout.”

Coach Tony Vitello has made the long ball the focal point of his offense. The Vols' 500 homers since 2020 are most in the country. Tennessee and Georgia are national co-leaders this season with 87. The Vols' 10.4 runs per game is second in the country behind Wofford’s 11.4.

Christian Moore homered in all three games against Auburn and has a team-leading 13, and four of his teammates have double-digit homers.

The Vols lost the series opener 9-5 and rebounded to win 12-2 and 19-5 in games ended by the 10-run rule after seven innings.

“I think the guys were pretty well locked in all weekend, except when we got punched in the gut Friday. Maybe needed to respond better there a little bit," Vitello said. “But to win a series on the road is huge in the SEC.”

The Vols (26-6, 7-5), ranked as high as No. 4 this week, are third in the SEC East, four games behind Kentucky and one behind Vanderbilt.

No player had a bigger weekend than Stark, who has started just 13 games at catcher and appeared in 19 games. He has had a knack for getting clutch hits. He hit a grand slam against Eastern Kentucky on March 12 and doubled and had a bunt-single in a series-clinching win over Georgia on March 31. He drove in seven runs while going 3 for 3 on Sunday, and he's 7 for 13 in his last four games.

“It feels awesome being able to contribute on that side of the ball, the offensive side,” Stark said. “Whenever all of us are swinging the bat like we did this week, it makes us a dangerous team.”

IN THE POLLS

Arkansas, Clemson and Texas A&M remain the top three teams in polls by D1Baseball.com and Baseball America.

The Razorbacks (27-3) swept Mississippi over the weekend and are out to their best 30-game start in program history. At 11-1 in conference games, they have their best 12-game start since they joined the SEC in 1992. They've won a program-record 21 straight at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Clemson (28-3) have won six straight after sweeping Notre Dame, winning Sunday's game 13-12 in 11 innings.

Texas A&M (28-4) extended its win streak to eight games before it lost 6-5 at nationally ranked South Carolina on Sunday.

ANTEATERS ON MISSION

UC Irvine (24-4) is playing as if it wants to leave no doubt it belongs in the NCAA Tournament. The Anteaters' 38-win team was among the first four teams left out of the tournament in 2023. They won two of three against nationally ranked UC Santa Barbara, sit No. 18 in the RPI and visit Big West defending champion San Diego after meeting Southern California on Tuesday.

STRUTTING PEACOCKS

Long-suffering Saint Peter's recorded its first series sweep in 10 years with its three home wins against Manhattan over the weekend. The Peacocks clinched the sweep with an 8-5 win Sunday, using a five-run eighth inning to erase a 4-3 deficit. Saint Peter's (10-22) hasn't had a winning season since 1990 and hadn't swept an opponent since doing it against Rider on April 12-13, 2014.

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AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports