Apparently, on Saturday it was Auburn’s turn for some comeback magic.
Tennessee led 5-4 after eight innings before Redmond Walsh gave up four runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of the Tigers’ 8-6 win.
Walsh surrendered up a leadoff single to kick off the final frame, and Auburn used its next two outs to move that runner, representing the game-tying run, to third base. Auburn’s Kason Howell tied up the game with a first-pitch double, and then Bobby Peirce blew open the game with his three-run blast into left field. Tennessee intentionally walked Sonny DiChiara, the SEC’s leader in batting average (.445!), to get to Peirce, and Peirce made the Vols pay. DiChiara had already hit his 13th HR of the season in the fifth, so I’m certainly not gonna throw a fit about the decision to give him the free pass.
The Vols didn’t go quietly, since they never do, as nine-hole hitter Cortland Lawson sent a full-count pitch into centerfield for a solo home run. Jorel Ortega had a base hit after Seth Stephenson struck out, but Auburn reliever Konner Copeland closed out the game by retiring arguably Tennessee’s two best hitters, Jordan Beck and Drew Gilbert, on flyouts.
Walsh had been near-automatic for Tennessee this season — prior to tonight’s game, he’d allowed two earned-runs all year and hadn’t given up a score since the game against James Madison back on March 8th.
Lawson’s ninth-inning home run was the only run Tennessee scored via the long ball.
He scored an unearned run off a Beck groundout in the third inning, then later both of the Vols’ runs in the sixth came off wild pitches to Christian Moore.
It’s no real surprise that the Tigers came into town and got at least one win in this series: Auburn was tied with the Vols for the SEC’s longest winning streaks(seven) before this series started, and it led Friday’s game 4-2 going into the seventh inning before Tennessee exploded for 15 runs in the next two frames. They’re 31-13 on the year and have a top-30-ish offense. This was always gonna be a tightly-contested series.
None of the Vols’ pitchers looked sharp Saturday. Starter Blade Tidwell walked four batters, after having surrendered just one walk in six appearances prior. The staff combined for eight passes on the night, as Will Mabrey walked the only batter he faced and Camden Sewell and Walsh combined for three more. Tidwell lasted just 2.2 IP before getting pulled, while Sewell threw 4.1 innings in relief. Sewell didn’t have his best outing on the mound, but he made a couple fantastic plays in the field.
Luc Lipcius struggled tonight, as he went 0-4 with four strikeouts at the plate and committed an error during Auburn’s four-run fifth inning when he missed the ball trying to field a pick-off throw at first. Freshmen Blake Burke and Christian Moore were the only two other players who didn’t register a hit.
Something worth noting — there was a bit of a kerfuffle after Peirce’s home run. Peirce’s bat flip landed all the way near Tennessee’s dugout and in Tony Vitello’s vicinity. Vitello tossed the back back toward the Auburn dugout, and there was some considerable jawing back-and-forth between the two teams. The Vols just don’t get through a weekend without some sort of drama.
Drew Beam will get the ball in Sunday’s series-deciding game. Beam’s given up eight runs in his last three outings after surrendering just four in his seven prior appearances. Five of those runs came in wins against Missouri and Alabama, while the final three runs came with three walks in his four-inning-and-no-decision start last weekend against the Gators.