Tennessee (42-14) captured the SEC East crown, and now have their sights aimed higher as the SEC Tournament begins this week. First up for the Volunteers was the Alabama Crimson Tide, which beat South Carolina on Tuesday.
It would be Tennessee’s Will Heflin vs. Alabama’s Jacob McNairy on the mound, with each side looking to avoid the loser’s bracket on Thursday.
Slow start for Tennessee
The Alabama bats got to Heflin early, stringing together a single and a double to put the Tennessee starter in some early trouble to start the 2nd inning. With two runners in scoring position, Jackson Tate grounded out, but brought a run home in the process. Heflin was able to get a groundout to end the inning, but the Crimson Tide got on the board first in Hoover.
Both pitchers settled in after that, pitching scoreless innings over the next few. Finally, the Tennessee bats woke up in the bottom of the 5th with a double from Pete Derkay. McNairy then walked Connor Pavolony, sparking a pitching change for Alabama. William Freeman got the call out of the bullpen with two on and two out, and quickly worked out of the jam. Liam Spence flew out to right, keeping the Alabama lead secure at 1-0 after five.
Trouble came for Heflin in the 6th, as Alabama loaded the bases. Tony Vitello went to his bullpen there, calling upon Camden Sewell. Sewell issued a walk to his first batter, but rebounded to come up with a strikeout and a groundout to minimize the damage.
However, the Alabama lead was now 2-0, and the Volunteers needed to string some hits together pretty quickly. Tennessee was unable to capitalize on a Jake Rucker double in the bottom of the 6th, leaving their side of the scoreboard blank entering the 7th.
That would change in the bottom of the 7th.
Vols capitalize on two errors
Down 0-2 in the count with runners at the corners thanks to two Alabama errors, Connor Pavolony fought back and found a bloop single to bring home Luc Lipcius. Liam Spence then came up with an infield hit to tie the game, bringing home Christian Scott. Alabama stopped the bleeding from there, but we had a brand new ballgame tied up at 2-2 entering the 8th.
Controversy in the 9th
The 2-2 score would hold through the 8th and the top of the 9th, bringing Tennessee up with a chance to win it in the bottom half. Christian Scott led things off with a single up the middle, immediately putting the pressure on. Pavolony, fresh off of two failed sac bunt attempts, shot one to the gap to advance Scott to third. Liam Spence lined one to second base, but it was dropped, keeping runners at the corners with one out.
Ferguson was up next, and Alabama chose to walk him to load the bases. That brought up Rucker, who sent one back up the middle. Alabama couldn’t turn two, but Ferguson was called for interference on the turn.
Here’s the video.
So after appearing to walk it off, the third out was called instead. To extras we went.
A scoreless 10th breezed by, but a Sam Praytor double had Alabama in business to begin the 11th. Owen Diodati drove him in with a base knock up the middle, retaking the lead at 3-2.
Backs against the wall, Tennessee had to make something happen in the bottom of the 11th. But Alabama reliever Chase Lee had it all working. He carved up Tennessee in the final inning, giving the Crimson Tide another win in the SEC Tournament.
Of course, the debate here comes back in the 9th inning, and Tennessee fans certainly have something to gripe about.
Tennessee now moves to the losers bracket, where they’ll face Mississippi State at 10:30 am ET tomorrow.