KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- Trent Miller and Jake Ellison each hit two home runs for MTSU on Tuesday as it fought off a two-out rally by Tennessee in the bottom of the ninth to hold on for a 7-6 win at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The Volunteers put two on with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but a line drive to center brought the game to a close. The game was Tennessee’s 16th one-run contest of the season, a total which leads all SEC teams. UT is 6-10 in those games.
“It's very tough to take, all the one-run losses,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “We were talking about that as a coaching staff yesterday and if we flip that around and we're having a decent season, but the reality is we've lost more than we've won in one-run games. Today, I'm not too ashamed to say it, it's about the pitching tonight. The difference in the game tonight was their pitchers were able to execute off-speed pitches behind in the count and early in the count for strikes and we didn't.
“They were able to take a pitch out of the equation and those guys swing the bat hard. We knew that last week and they swung the bat hard and aggressively. A lot of times, I favor playing those kinds of teams if you're able to pitch. They hit a couple good pitches out but most of them were up in the zone and they're swinging hard, and those are the balls that are going to go over the fence.”
A.J. Simcox led a 10-hit UT attack, going 3-for-4 with an RBI. Vincent Jackson and Will Maddox also had two hits in the contest, with Maddox driving in a run and stealing two bases.
Eric Martin had one of his best efforts on the mound this season, striking out three in two shutout innings of relief. Andy Cox also posted 1.1 scoreless frames while Trevor Bettencourt fired a perfect ninth.
After a two-run home run by Miller in the top of the first put the Big Orange in an early 2-0 hole, the Vols cut the deficit in half when Maddox broke from third on a 2-1 pitch to Ethan Bennett and slid in safely when the offering missed wide of the plate.
It marked the third time a Vol has stolen home this season and the second time for Maddox, who also did it against Western Kentucky on March 13. Jeff Moberg accomplished the feat in the Hokie-Smokey Classic against Virginia Tech on April 16.
“Will did that on his own,” Serrano said. “Coach Bergeron likes to steal home, but he admitted that that wasn't his idea, that was Will. I think that's the first time I've ever seen a guy out of the stretch, looking right at the runner and the guy running right in his face, and it worked out well for us.
“Will, at times, plays the game extremely hard and sometimes he does some things that we scratch our heads about but you live and die by a guy like that and in retrospect, I'd like to have more pitchers that play the game like that, with some reckless abandon and getting after it. Will plays the game right and he's a treat to be around each and every day.”
The Blue Raiders pushed their lead to 3-1 with another longball, this one by Ellison in the top of the third, but the Vols came roaring back, taking a 5-3 lead with a four-run fourth.
After a single and a walk put Jackson on second and Christin Stewart on first with one out, the Orange and White called for a double steal. The throw from the MTSU catcher sailed into left, allowing Jackson to score UT's second run on the day. Pierce Bily then tied the game with a chopper to third.
Derek Lance followed with a single up the middle to put two on for Maddox who gave Tennessee its first lead of the game with a bad-hop single over the second baseman's head. Simcox then laid down a successful safety squeeze to make it a 5-3 UT lead through four innings.
The Blue Raiders weren't going to go away that easily though as both Miller and Ellison went deep again and Hank LaRue added an RBI single to push their team back in front, 7-5, at the seventh-inning stretch.
Tennessee inched within a run in the bottom of the eighth as Jackson dumped a 3-2 pitch into the corner in left for a leadoff triple before a groundout to short by Taylor Smart brought him in to make it a 7-6 ball game.
That would be as close as they would get though as MTSU reliever Jordan Cooper left runners stranded on first and second in the bottom of the ninth to close out the game and earn his first save of the year.
Tennessee will look to get back into the win column this weekend when it hosts border-rival Georgia, May 3-5.