Entering this weekend Tennessee needed to sweep Georgia to be guaranteed a spot in the SEC Tournament in Hoover. The absolute least they could do and still make the trip would be to win two if Kentucky or Vanderbilt swept their series and Arkansas lost one game.
Things did not start well Thursday as Georgia jumped on Will Neely for one run in the second and three in the third to retake the 4-2 lead. Andy Cox entered to start the fourth but walked four straight batters before he was pulled for Jon Lipinski. Georgia managed five runs that inning and held on for the 10-8 victory.
Kentucky lost their opener that night which meant that the only chance the Vols had was to win out and hope for Vandy to sweep Auburn. The Dores played a double header Thursday and won both games 5-2 and 9-3.
Georgia again took the early lead on Friday over UT, scoring two in both the second and fourth for the 4-0 lead. Tennessee responded in the sixth with a Tyler Schultz RBI fielder's choice and Derek Lance bases loaded walk to cut the lead to two, which is where the game stood until the ninth inning.
Lance responded with another good at bat, leading off the ninth with a single to right field. Brodie Leftridge followed that up with a walk and Chris Hall was hit by a pitch (his 16th of the season, which puts him 14th in the NCAA in that category) to load the bases. Lance scored on a passed ball and Senzel was walked with a wild pitch that scored Leftridge to tie it all up. Vincent Jackson brought home Hall on a sacrifice fly to give the Vols the 5-4 lead and eventual win.
For the first time all series Saturday the Vols got the lead first, with back to back doubles by Hall and Senzel in the first scoring Hall. Another runner scored in the third on a wild pitch for the 2-0 Tennessee lead. Georgia struck back with two runs on a walk and two hits in the fifth inning to tie it back up.
That score would again hold until the 9th inning where Tyler Schutlz doubled off the tip of the glove of Georgia's diving right fielder to start the inning. Matt Waldren pinch ran for Schultz. Max Bartlett struck out and Derek Lance flew out to put two down. Brodie Leftridge drilled a single up the middle which brought Waldren home. Chris Hall drew a walk after a double steal runners were on 2nd and 3rd for Nick Senzel. Senzel rocketed a double to right field which brought them both home and gave the Vols the 5-2 lead. Georgia would walk to lead off the bottom of the frame before a double play. They managed a single before Aaron Soto struck out the final batter for the win.
Leftridge was quite excited after his go ahead RBI:
Staying alive! @Vol_Baseball beats Georgia 5-2, needs Vanderbilt to beat Auburn to get to Hoover. pic.twitter.com/n5eBY0q3gx— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) May 21, 2016
That left the fate of the Volunteers was in the hands of Vanderbilt. Auburn had taken the early 1-0 lead but Vandy managed to score three in the fourth and built a 4-2 lead in the sixth. The Tigers left five runners stranded on base in the seventh and eighth while scoring only one run. A quick two strikeout and one fly out ninth wrapped up the 4-3 Commodore victory which sealed UT's trip to Hoover.
This series victory over Georgia was the first for the Vols since 2010.
Tennessee is now 29-27 on the year and 9-21 in conference play. This will be the 15th SEC tournament appearance for the Vols. They are 25-23 all time in the tournament and own three titles. The Vols have lost four straight tournament games and are 1-4 in their last three appearances.
This is the first time the Vols have made the SEC tournament in three straight seasons since their streak of five in a row from 1993-1997.
Tennessee is the 12th seed in the tournament, which kicks off on Tuesday. That means they will play the late game that night at around 9 p.m. ET against the fifth seed in the single elimination stage of the tournament, which will be LSU. The winner of that match up will advance to the double elimination stage and face off against the fourth seeded Florida Gators in the 9p.m. ET game Wednesday.