Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, March 4, 2022

Vols’ Zeigler makes new friend in post-win celebration

Zakai Zeigler just needed to find a fan to share his joy following UT’s win against Auburn. - Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com

Zakai Zeigler was looking for anybody and everybody to hug. After the Tennessee men’s basketball team upset No. 3 Auburn Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena, the freshman guard was swept up in the celebration.

Zeigler spotted a fan wearing an orange jersey shirt with his name and number on the back, and wrapped him in an embrace.

He had no idea his arms were around UT baseball coach Tony Vitello.

“After the game, I hugged him and I did not know it was him,” Zeigler says. “Everybody was telling me it’s the baseball coach, and I was like I just gave him a hug. I didn’t know who it was.”

There have been a lot of warm feelings this season around TBA, where the Vols are a perfect 15-0 at home.

They beat their third Top 5 team at home by handing former UT coach Bruce Pearl and his Tigers a 67-62 loss in front of a sold-out crowd. The frenzied SEC atmosphere is a new experience for the New York-raised Zeigler.

“My teammate asked me earlier if I ever thought I was going to play in front of the crowd like this, and I said, ‘No.’ I don’t know how you’re supposed to play in front of it,” he adds. “The loudest crowd before this that I’ve played in front of was maybe 500 people. Coming into this is amazing and a different feeling.”

The Vols received contributions from throughout the lineup to stage a comeback from down 11 points against Auburn. Freshman forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield played 20 minutes, scoring five points, grabbing a career-high tying eight rebounds and blocking two shots.

“He was terrific. He came in and made the plays which were really key,” UT head coach Rick Barnes says. “His demeanor was really good. The more you put into it, the more you will get out of it. In his case, it has been more mental than physical. He really wants to learn the game at a high level.”

Barnes gave an assist to the fans for helping fuel the team’s success.

“I do believe we’ve got one of the best home court advantages. I do. I think our fans are great. I just told them, ‘It’s great to be a Tennessee Volunteer.’ They’ve made a difference,” Barnes points out.

“Our student section has been outstanding. I told our guys, and it’s the first time I’ve said honestly since I have been here, if you guys will get it going on defense, we’ll get this crowd in the game.

“I’ve never alluded to a crowd. I don’t know if I have ever done it in my career to be honest with you. I don’t know why I did today, but I did say that during a timeout.”

Among those cheering the loudest was Vitello, who sprinted over after his team’s game to get a courtside seat. His admiration for Zeigler is obvious.

“He’s not in it to make friends. He’s in it to win it,” Vitello explains. “He’s got so much heart, like you wish every athlete had. Opponents don’t like him, but that’s how it should be. I love that guy.”

The Vols entered the week tied for second place in the SEC standings with Kentucky and Arkansas. The SEC tournament begins March 9 in Tampa.

Before they could begin looking ahead, Barnes wanted his players to savor their latest home victory.

“Winning is so hard and I probably am not one of the best at enjoying winning because my mind quickly gets onto what’s next. For them, I want them to enjoy winning because it’s hard to come by,” Barnes says. “When you do win, I don’t want them to do anything stupid, I don’t want them to ever disrespect any opponent. I want them to show humility, I want them to be classy, but I do want them to enjoy it.”

Lady Vols prepare for SEC tournament

The Tennessee women’s basketball team ended the season Sunday with a 57-54 home loss to LSU. The Lady Vols made an impressive second-half comeback but fell just short.

Tennessee will be the No. 3 seed in the upcoming SEC tournament in Nashville. The Lady Vols earned a double bye and will play Friday at approximately 8:30 p.m.

Lighting up the scoreboard

The Tennessee baseball team obliterated the record books in a scoring spree against Iona over the weekend.

The Vols set a program record for runs in a series, outscoring Iona 68-3 during three games at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The previous record was 59 runs in a three-game sweep over Tusculum in 1909.

Trey Lipscomb had a season’s worth of highlights last week. The senior third baseman batted .786 with three doubles, two triples, three homers and 16 RBIs over four games played.

Lipscomb hit for the cycle and drove in nine runs in Friday’s series opener before two more multi-hit and multi-RBI games Saturday and Sunday.

UT’s strength of schedule ramps up this weekend when the Vols head to Houston to play in the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic against No. 1 Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma.

Heavyweight battles on the diamond

Tennessee softball is beyond moral victories as a program. But if ever a team saw its stock rise nationally after back-to-back losses, it was the Lady Vols.

UT traded blows with No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 6 UCLA Saturday in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, California, before losing both games on walk-offs in extra innings.

The Lady Vols lost to OU 9-8 in 10 innings after a walk-off two-run home run, and then fell to UCLA 2-1 on a walk-off sacrifice fly in the eighth inning. OU is the defending national champion and UCLA won the previous NCAA title.

Against powerful OU, the Lady Vols rallied from a 4-1 deficit and led in the seventh, ninth and 10th innings.

Lady Vols senior ace Ashley Rogers was medically cleared to return to the field. She wasn’t in peak form, but made some competitive pitches and received some help from a much deeper staff than in past seasons.

Junior outfielder Kiki Milloy provided more evidence of why she’s one the best players in the nation.

Milloy was 6 for 18, with all six hits going for extra bases. She had two doubles, four home runs and 10 RBIs. Milloy drew four walks, five hit by pitches and was 4 for 4 in stolen bases. She finished with a .556 on-base percentage and a 1.111 slugging percentage.