After a gut-wrenching loss to the Florida Gators (30-22, 10-16) on Friday night, the 24th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers (34-17, 11-15) needed to win Saturday in order to keep its postseason hopes alive.
And those hopes do in fact remain alive thanks to Tennessee’s bats and a solid bullpen performance that held off another water lizard rally for a gigantic 8-7 win on Saturday.
The SEC rivals will now battle Sunday afternoon for the right to anoint themselves series victors.
Florida’s Jack Leftwich was able to strike out the first two batters in the top of the first inning, but Andre Lipcius found the sweet spot off the pitch and jacked his 14th home run of the season to give the Vols the early 1-0 lead.
But Brady McConnell hit one into deep centerfield for his 13th home run of the season to tie the game, 1-1.
Brady LAUNCHED this ball outta here!— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) May 11, 2019
He sent this 95 mph fastball 422 feet out to right center (110 exit velo)! #GoGators
E1 | #Gators 1, Tennessee 1
Watch Now on @SECNetwork: https://t.co/LZwe37M764 pic.twitter.com/ktUeIAQUHK
Evan Russell started the second inning with a leadoff walk and Pete Derkay followed two batters later, leaving a runner on first and second with Ricky Martinez up to bat.
Martinez hit a line drive straight at Leftwich, who was able to stop the ball with his glove. He then threw Martinez out at first with a soft lob to Jordan Butler before the runner could get to first base.
Russell and Derkay were able to advance to second and third base, but Leftwich forced a Landon Gray pop fly to shallow left field and escaped a tight situation with no runs allowed.
Garrett Crochet kept the game tied in the bottom of the second, but it was because Jay Charleston made an amazing diving catch in deep right-center to deny Blake Reese the RBI. Without that catch, it’s easy to argue that the Gators would’ve taken the lead.
This stuff is Top-10 material, folks.
Both pitchers kept things under wraps until Crochet found himself with runners on first and second and no outs in the bottom of the fourth. A fly ball to deep centerfield advanced both runners to second and third.
Kendrick Calilao subsequently put the Gators on top with a two-run double that drove in Brady Smith and Nelson Maldonado. It was now 3-1 with just one out and Crochet needed to make something happen.
He retired the next two batters, but the damage had been done. It was time for Tennessee’s bats to make something happen.
Martinez was able to get things started off on the right foot with a lead-off single. He scored thanks to a Jordan Ammons single to left field that followed a wild pitch. Florida’s lead was now 3-2 and Leftwich had 86 pitches. That would signal the end for the talented sophomore, as freshman reliever Ben Specht trotted out to take over.
The Vols took advantage of Specht, beginning with a perfectly executed Charleston bunt. A two-run single from Lipcius put the Vols back up, 4-3.
But the Vols weren’t tormenting the freshman.
Right after Lipcius’ hit, Andre Soularie belted one out of the park for a two-run home run that gave the Vols a 6-3 lead.
To no surprise, Specht was immediately replaced with Jordan Butler, who was able to get the Gators out of the fifth with whatever pride they had left.
It was three-up/three-down for Crochet - who struck out all three batters on 13 pitches - and all of a sudden, Tennessee had a ton of momentum heading into the sixth inning.
The pitching woes followed Forida. Ammons recorded another RBI, driving in Derkay, after he singled up the middle. But as the Vols saw Friday night, there was no reason to feel safe with a 7-3 lead.
The Gators made things interesting in the bottom of the sixth after Wil Dalton homered to left field to make it a 7-5 game.
Another pitching changed occurred for Florida in the top of the seventh inning when David Luethje replaced Butler.
Luethje’s reign didn’t last long. Sophomore Justin Alintoff came in after the Vols loaded the bases up, putting the Gators in an obviously vulnerable position.
But the Vols kept pounding Florida’s bullpen. Martinez immediately pegged Alintoff for a RBI single that pushed the lead to 8-5 before Gray ended the inning with his third strikeout of the game.
McConnell hit his second home run off Crochet in the bottom of the eighth inning, cutting the lead to 8-6. A subsequent Austin Langworthy single ended Crochet’s afternoon. He finished with six strikeouts, seven hits, and seven runs in 6.1 innings pitched.
Andrew Schultz came in to relieve Crochet got off to a rough start. He allowed a Maldonado single that made way for Langworthy to advance to third.
Smith then doubled to centerfield, but fortunately for the Vols, only Langworthy scored. The Vols led 8-7, but Maldonado remained on third base.
Things got really scary on the next at-bat when Dalton was able to make contact on a line-drive that was insanely close to the left infield sideline, but Lipcius made an incredible play to corral the ball and make the throw to home before Maldonado could score the tying run.
Schultz almost finished out the eighth inning, but was replaced by Camden Sewell, who would preserve the 8-7 lead and get the win for the Vols.
Crochet was given the win and is now 4-3 on the season.
The Vols clinched a SEC Tournament spot with the win, their first appearance since 2016. They will look to get the series win on Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 1PM EST and the game will be streamed on SEC Network+ and the Watch ESPN app.