Despair on the diamond for Vols, Lady Vols

AUBURN, Ala. (UTSports.com) — The Tennessee baseball team dropped a heartbreaker Sunday as Auburn used a walk-off basehit in the bottom of the ninth inning to hand the Volunteers a 4-3 loss at Samford Stadium-Hitchcock Field at Plainsman Park. An outstanding pitching performance by UT sophomore Nick Hernandez fell by the wayside as the Tigers turned two Tennessee errors into a pair of costly unearned runs in the final innings.

Tennessee (16-9, 5-4 SEC) had a shutout brewing into the eighth inning, during which Auburn (18-10, 4-5 SEC) took advantage of a defensive miscue to plate a pair of runs.

The Tigers then used an RBI double by catcher Tony Caldwell to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, setting the stage for Auburn shortstop Matt Hall to belt a walk-off RBI single to left field.

Hernandez turned in one of his best outings of the season, surrendering just two runs (one earned) on seven hits through seven innings with one walk and three strikeouts. However, the sophomore from Miami, Fla., was saddled with his fourth no-decision in five starts this season.

With two outs in the top of the first inning, Vols catcher Yan Gomes was hit by a pitch to give Tennessee its first baserunner of the day. Gomes was driven in two batters later when Jeff Lockwood sent an RBI basehit into right-center to open the game’s scoring.

Tennessee right fielder Josh Liles gave the Big Orange a 2-0 lead with an RBI groundout that plated Jeff Lockwood in the fourth.

Auburn loaded the bases against Hernandez with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, but Hernandez got Tigers designated hitter Kevin Patterson to look at strike three—temporarily preserving the shutout.

Tennessee second baseman Andy Simunic hit a single in the top of the eighth—his third hit of the game—and he scored with two outs later in the inning on a wild pitch by Tigers reliever Scott Shuman. Simunic finished the series with six hits, second only to senior Shawn Griffin’s seven.

Auburn threatened to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth when a UT infield error enabled the Tigers to put a pair of runners in scoring position with no outs. Lockwood—who had already scored a run and collected two hits in the game as Tennessee’s designated hitter—then took the mound to pitch to Tigers pinch hitter David Cunningham.

Cunningham erased UT’s shutout bid with an RBI groundout, and Lockwood then moved to first base as Vols junior Aaron Everett entered out of the bullpen to face Tigers right fielder Mike Bianucci.

Bianucci delivered another RBI groundout to help Auburn pull within one run, 3-2. But Everett then came through with a clutch strikeout against Tigers first baseman Hunter Morris.

The drama continued into the bottom of the ninth, when Auburn’s Joseph Sanders led off by reaching on another error in the Tennessee infield. Lockwood then came back to the mound—marking the third game this season in which he’s made multiple mound appearances—and recorded a strikeout before Brian Fletcher singled to put men on first and second with one out.

That set the stage for Caldwell’s game-tying double. Lockwood took the loss to fall to 1-1 on the year.

Auburn clinched the series with Sunday’s win as both teams pounded out double-digit hits for the third time on the weekend. After combining for 56 hits in the first two games of the series, the teams combined for 20 hits Sunday (10 apiece). Tennessee averaged 12.7 hits per game in the series but made three errors in each contest.

The Vols return to action Tuesday when they travel to Cookeville, Tenn., to take on Tennessee Tech (19-7-1, 4-2 OVC) at 6 p.m. CT. Tennessee then hosts Charlotte Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

SOFTBALL

(UTLadyVols.com) -- Despite holding a 1-0 lead venturing into the sixth, No. 9 Tennessee (31-7, 7-6 Southeastern Conference) lost a tough 2-1, eight-inning decision to Auburn (30-9, 9-5 SEC) on Sunday afternoon at the Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn, Ala., to drop its weekend league series to the Tigers two games to one.

For the second straight contest the UT offense managed to leave seven base runners stranded while the Big Orange pitching staff permitted just three AU hits. Senior pitcher Megan Rhodes fell to 14-4 overall and 4-4 in SEC action by allowing the game-winning sacrifice fly during the eighth inning as part of 1.2 frames of relief. Freshman starter Ashton Ward allowed a single run on just two hits while walking two and striking out six over six frames of work. Senior third baseman Tonya Callahan led the Tennessee offense with a single and a double as part of a 2-for-3 effort.

“Auburn’s pitching simply beat our pitching in the clutch,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “This is the first series we have had where we had 21 hits to our opponent’s 12 and no errors to our opponent’s seven and still lost the series. They were opportunistic and deserved to win.”

Both teams went down one-two-three in the first inning as hurlers Ward and Brittany Day matched each other from the circle. Ward retired the final Auburn hitter by racing to her left near the first base line and scooping up a slow ground ball before throwing underhanded on the run to sophomore Nicole Kajitani covering the bag for the third out.

Auburn third baseman Starr Dorsey became the contest’s initial base runner for either squad by drawing a two-out walk off Ward in the bottom of the second. First baseman Jorja Bell drove a 3-2 offering past a diving Kenora Posey at short and into center field placing Tiger runners at first and second. UT’s 6-0 right hander quickly got ahead of second baseman Megan Mitchell 0-2 before throwing a rise ball past the hitter to end the threat.

With the Tennessee offense quiet through three frames against Day, AU’s left fielder Brittany Scott managed a one-out free pass off Ward in the bottom half of the third. Fortunately, the Big Orange defense backed up its hurler as Kajitani corralled a bouncer from right fielder Taryn Gray and managed to cut down the lead runner at second via the fielder’s choice. With two down, dangerous No. 3 hitter Tatiana Fernandez stepped to the plate, but Ward managed to induce a routine fly out to Erinn Webb in center to conclude the frame.

Freshman designated player and lead-off hitter Kelly Grieve finally granted the Big Orange offense some life with a perfect slap single to third opening the top of the fourth. Sophomore right fielder Tiffany Huff attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but popped up her first two attempts. The Saugus, Calif., product worked the count from 0-2 to 3-2 before singling through the left side of the infield. During Huff’s at-bat, however, Grieve managed to get gunned down at second on a steal attempt via a strong throw by Fernandez. With one retired, senior third baseman Tonya Callahan blasted a Day offering into left field to establish the first major UT threat of the contest with Lady Vol runners stationed at first and second. Senior catcher Shannon Doepking got ahead of Day 3-0 before drawing a walk to load the bases with freshman first baseman Jen Lapicki stepping to the dish. The free pass to Doepking signaled the end of Day’s stint in the circle as Auburn Head Coach Tina Deese summoned in sophomore Anna Thompson in relief. After lining a shot into the stands foul, Lapicki bounced a speedy roller up the third base line that handcuffed Dorsey. That forced the fielder to corral it with difficulty and step on the third base bag to force Callahan as freshman pinch runner Natalee Weissinger crossed home for a 1-0 lead. A strikeout ended the inning but not before Tennessee had tallied the game’s initial score. Entering today’s series finale the Lady Vols were 26-2 when plating the contest’s first run.

Ward rolled through the Auburn line-up in the bottom of the fourth with the help of stellar defensive play by Posey at short. Center fielder Myesha Finney lined sharply straight to Posey, while Tennessee’s fielder also corralled a grounder from shortstop Kyndall White posting two quick outs. Dorsey went down swinging to register Ward’s third strikeout of the contest.

The Charlotte, N.C., native continued her dominance from the circle for Tennessee through the bottom of the fifth as Auburn’s Bell, Mitchell and designated player Cassie Trosclair each went down on strikes as Ward punched out the side while upping her K total to six.

With one down in the top of the sixth, Callahan ripped a double to the wall in left field past Brittany Scott before being replaced on the base paths by freshman pinch runner Kelsey Stander. Doepking got ahead of reliever Thompson 3-1 before drawing a walk to place Big Orange occupants at first and second. Unfortunately, nothing came of the offensive threat as Lapicki popped up routinely to short, and Webb flew out to mid-range center.

Trailing by just one run, Scott tried to get an attack going for the Blue & Orange by leading off the bottom of the sixth with a double to right field. Gray attempted to drop the sacrifice bunt but popped up her effort to Doepking behind the plate for a big first out. A wild pitch from Ward allowed Scott the opportunity to advance 60 feet to third. Fernandez ripped a shot right at Lapicki as the Oldwick, N.J., native made the grab and tagged the runner coming up the line for the second retirement. Unfortunately, Scott was able to tie the contest on another wild offering from Ward as the ball bounced out in front of the plate and past Doepking to the back stop. A groundout to short by Finney ended the threat but not before the Tigers had dead-locked the score at 1-1 venturing to the final inning of regulation.

The Big Orange went down in order in the top of the seventh, bringing the Tigers up with the chance to end things before extra softball would be required. Rhodes was entered in the contest in relief of Ward beginning the seventh and she immediately walked the lead-off batter White. Dorsey attempted to drop a sacrifice bunt, but popped it up just wide of the circle. Rhodes attempted a leaping back-hand grab but had the ball tip off the end of her glove for a single as Auburn posted runners at first and second with still no one retired. AU’s Bell got behind in the count 1-2 and fouled a shot down the right field line that was just out of the reach of Huff from her defensive position. The hitter bounced a shot down to Posey at short that she corralled before throwing a little high to third. Callahan made a tough catch and touched the bag forcing the lead runner for a huge initial out. Mitchell dropped a sacrifice bunt back to the circle advancing both runners up 60 feet into scoring position. That brought pinch hitter Alicia Hunolt to the dish with a chance to bring an end to the match-up. Rhodes got ahead of the batter 1-2 before striking her out with an offering to load the bases for Scott. Down 2-0 in the count, the UT right hander battled back even at 2-2 before catching Scott swinging on a perfect change-up to bring extra frames into play.

In the top of the eighth, Huff managed to battle out of a hole to draw a one-out walk off Thompson and grant Tennessee a much needed base runner. Callahan was hit by the first pitch she received placing two aboard for Doepking. The Acton, Calif., native got ahead of the pitcher 3-1 before Thompson fought back to induce a pop-up to second base. Lapicki fouled off several pitches before flying out to Finney in right center.

For the second straight frame Rhodes was playing with fire by walking the lead-off batter to open the bottom of the eighth. With Gray occupying first, Fernandez stepped into the batter’s box and got ahead of the hurler 3-0 before Rhodes battled back full at 3-2. Unfortunately, the Nashville, Tenn., native lost the fight walking Fernandez to place two Auburn runners aboard with still none retired. Finney dropped a bunt in an attempt to advance the runners but bounced straight to Callahan who turned and cut down the lead runner at third. A wild pitch allowed both base occupants the opportunity to move up into scoring position. That gave White the opportunity to bring the match-up to a close, and she did just that with a sacrifice fly to deep left as pinch runner Krista Clyde scored easily for the 2-1 victory.

No. 9 Tennessee christens a season-long 15-game home stand on Tuesday evening at the Lee Softball Stadium with a doubleheader against ETSU scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com and, as always, periodic updates of the UT games will be recorded on the Lady Vol Hotline (865-974-8700, box #6).


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