KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- No. 29 Tennessee took a 6-1 lead into the sixth against No. 8 Alabama, but the Crimson Tide rallied for six runs over the final four frames to hand the Volunteers a heartbreaking 7-6 defeat on Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“That was a tough one,” said head coach Dave Serrano. “The only thing I can feel good about is that I thought Alabama had to do some things to get back in this game and you have to give credit where credit is due. Andy Cox has been lights out for us and I don't think he was off his game today; I thought they just put some good swings on some good pitches and beat some of our infielders and droves some balls in the gap and they got really aggressive with him. They weren't taking pitches, they were getting their swings in and it affected us a little bit because they were getting some hits.
“I'm proud of our guys; we fought. I'm trying not to sugar-coat anything, because we lost and we've lost the series today but I thought we did some good things, but it's the negative things we're doing that are haunting us a little bit. We intentionally walk [Austen] Smith, which was the right thing to do, to get to [Casey] Hughston, who we had handled really well from the left side and we walk him on four pitches. A lot of people will say it was the umpire's call, but we shouldn't have been throwing a 1-1 changeup up around his hands; it should be down in the zone. We need to catch strikes with two strikes and not extend innings. Those are the little things. We need to put the ball in play with runners in scoring position. Those are the little things. They've had chances to execute and they've gotten it done with bunts. We had a chance today – one chance – and they got the guy out at third.
“All those little things add up to heartbreaking, crushing losses when you're trying to get established in what I think is the best league in the country.”
Tennessee (24-13, 6-11) got a big game out of senior right fielder Pierce Bily at the plate. Making just his third start of the season, Bily was 2-for-4 with three RBIs, a double and his first career home run. The Anaheim, Calif., native seemed to put the Vols in complete control in the fifth inning by lacing a two-run dinger off the left field foul pole to put UT on top 6-1.
However, the Crimson Tide (28-11, 12-5) wasted no time in getting one of those two tallies back as designated hitter Wade Wass blasted a solo homer to left center to lead off the sixth. After the longball and consecutive singles, UT starter Hunter Martin was lifted for southpaw Andy Cox. Cox struck out the first batter he faced, but a dropped third strike loaded the bases with no outs. The sophomore drew a 4-6-3 double play on his next pitch, but the Tide was able to bring home its second run of the inning and third of the game on the play to trim the deficit to 6-3.
For the first time in nearly a month, Cox was hit hard in the top of the seventh. Alabama totaled four hits – all singles – and scored three runs off the lefty to tie the game at 6-6. Cox, who entered the series ranked second in the country in hits against per game (4.27), gave up his first earned run since allowing two to Auburn on March 23. It ended a streak of 14 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run. Alabama just about took the lead in the frame, but an on-target throw from center fielder Johnny Youngblood and a perfect block by David Houser stuffed UA’s Kyle Overstreet at the plate.
Wass continued his solid offensive performance for Alabama in the ninth, ripping a one-out double to right center before being pinch-ran for by Hunter Webb. Cox got Overstreet to groundout to Taylor Smart at third base for the second out of the inning, leaving Webb at second. It was Smart’s single-game season high seventh assist. The Vols then intentionally walked Austen Smith to put a force at any bag, but Cox followed with a free pass to Casey Hughston on four straight pitches. Coach Serrano lifted Cox for right-handed Josh Peterson. On a 1-1 count, Peterson threw a changeup in on the hands of Bama’s Chance Vincent. After a long meeting with his crew, the home plate umpire ruled it a hit by pitch, bringing home Webb, who turned out to be the game-winning run for the Tide.
The Vols got the game-tying run on base in the bottom of the ninth as freshman Nick Senzel looped a one-out single into center field, but UA closer Thomas Burrows finished it off for the second night in a row to earn his eighth save of the season. Senzel finished the game 2-for-5 with a triple. It was Cox’s (3-1) first loss of the season. Jay Shaw (2-3) earned the win, allowing just one hit over 2 1/3 innings of relief.
Alabama struck first for the second game in a row with two walks and a single in the top of the first. Martin’s two walks in the first tied his single-game season high. Overstreet picked up the RBI, driving a single back up the middle to score leadoff man Mikey White.
Will Maddox walked on four pitches to start the bottom half of the first inning and after several pickoff attempts by Alabama starter Justin Kamplain, Maddox successfully stole second for his team-leading 15th stolen bag of the season. Sophomore Christin Stewart then tied the game with his team-leading 28th RBI, lining a single right back at Kamplain and into center.
Bily doubled to lead off the second inning for the Vols, sending a 1-1 pitch to the wall through the right-center gap. However, the senior was cut down at third base when A.J. Simcox attempted to lay down a sac bunt. Houser followed with a single through the left side and Youngblood walked to load the bases with just one out, but Maddox grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.
Tennessee got the leadoff man on for the third time in as many innings as Derek Lance walked on four pitches. Stewart improved to 2-for-2 by dropping a double just inside the paint down the right field line – his team-leading 12th of the season. Stewart finished 2-for-5 with an RBI. It was his team-leading 14th multi-hit game of the season.
The Vols got some help from the Crimson Tide as third baseman Chance Vincent threw the ball in the dirt trying to cut down Lance, who was heading home a grounder by Smart. Vincent’s throw got past the UA catcher and went into the UT dugout, allowing Lance and Stewart to score safely. Smart, who advanced to second on the errant throw, got a great jump to steal third and was brought home to give UT a 4-1 lead on a sac fly by Bily.
Martin continued to settle in for the Vols on the hill, striking out back-to-back batters to end the fifth. After striking out none over his first 3 2/3 innings, Martin sat down four of five via strikeouts in the fourth and fifth innings. The freshman gave up seven hits and three earned runs while striking out four over five innings of work.
The Orange and White and Crimson Tide are back in action for the series finale on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. The Vols will send out freshman right-hander Kyle Serrano (3-2, 4.91) to face Alabama southpaw Jon Keller (5-1, 1.86).