KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- The No. 14 Diamond Vols scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth and loaded the bases in the ninth inning, but couldn’t plate the game-tying run as No. 29 Auburn held on to beat the Vols, 3-2, in front of a season-high 2,742 fans at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Friday night.
The loss was the first of the season at home for the Vols, who are now 18-3 overall and 2-2 in Southeastern Conference play. The Vols are now 12-3 at home after dropping the SEC home opener. Auburn improves to 16-7 on the season and 3-2 in league play. The Tigers have won 10 of their last 11.
"Everything is magnified on a Friday night; everything is magnified in the SEC,” said head coach Dave Serrano. “Every game is important. I’ve seen this coming; this coaching staff has seen this coming. We are very proud of what [our players] have accomplished, but little things have started to sneak in that have made even victories tougher for us. For example – on Tuesday night – we’re giving teams too much and it is allowing them to stay close or get back in the game. We have to get that out of our personality right now because we are making it a lot tougher on ourselves.”
The Vols have now lost three Friday night games in a row, but rebounded to win the previous two weekend series at Arizona State and Missouri.
"We put our backs against the wall again,” said Serrano. “I don't like to feel that way, but we are down one. Our goal is always to sweep. The sweep was taken away from us tonight. Now, our next goal is to take the series, and we've got a lot of fighting and clawing to do to get that done."
Down 3-0 heading to the bottom half the eighth inning, the Vols’ 2-3 hitters A.J. Simcox and Will Maddox got the rally going with back-to-back singles. Following a Nick Senzel groundout, which moved both runners into scoring position, Vincent Jackson came through with a RBI groundout to cut the Tigers’ lead to 3-1. Sophomore outfielder Christin Stewart then roped a single into right field, bringing home Maddox to trim the deficit to 3-2.
Relief pitchers Andy Cox and Peter Lenstrohm held Auburn off the board in the ninth, setting the table for the Tennessee comeback.
The Vols were able to load the bags quickly in the ninth as Tyler Schultz led off the frame with a bouncing single up the middle. Taylor Smart laid the sac bunt down the first baseline to move him into scoring position. Two walks from Auburn’s Terrance Dedrick, who was seeking his second save of the season, loaded the bases for UT. The Big Orange, which entered the contest with three walk-off wins, was unable to bring the runs home as Maddox ground into a fielder’s choice at the plate and Senzel flew out to right field to end it.
The Vols were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left 11 on base Friday. Tennessee left the bags loaded in the first, fifth and ninth innings.
Stewart and senior Scott Price led the Vols with 2-for-4 efforts at the plate. Stewart and Jackson picked up the UT RBIs. Auburn leadoff man Jordan Ebert had two hits and the Tigers’ catcher Blake Austin was 1-for-3 with a two-RBI double.
Auburn got on the board in the first off a two-out, two-RBI stand up double to right-center field by Blake Austin. Vols’ starter Nick Williams got the first two Tigers out, but gave up a full-count walk and a single to put two on with two down. Austin sent the 1-1 pitch from Williams all the way to the right-center wall, bringing in two of his teammates to give AU the early 2-0 lead.
Williams pitched a season-high eight innings for the Vols, giving up six hits, three runs and walking two. The Knoxville native also struck out four in the 106-pitch outing.
The Vols got their first two base runners on in the bottom half of the first, and would later load the bags with one out following a walk to Jackson – his team-leading 13th of the season. Stewart battled in his at-bat, fouling off four pitches from Auburn starter Dillon Ortman, but the Tigers got the groundout to get out of the first unscathed.
Ortman kept the Vols off-balance all night, striking out seven over seven innings of work. Ortman improved to 5-1 on the season with the win.
Following a leadoff single to left field by the Tigers, Williams and the Vols worked out of the third frame behind the glove of Smart. The Maple Valley, Wash., native made a great play on an Auburn sac bunt, tossing over to Price to get the first out, and followed that up by creating a double play. Smart fielded a grounder down the line, ran over to tag Auburn’s Jordan Ebert trying to reach third base and then fired over to first for the third out.
Tennessee used singles from Smart and Price and a walk drawn by Maddox to load the bags again in the bottom half of the fifth, before Senzel ripped an inside pitch right at Auburn center fielder Ryan Tella, who made the grab for the final out.
Williams hit Austin to start the sixth – his second hit batter of the contest – and the Tigers were able to move him over with a sac bunt. Auburn first baseman Keegan Thompson tacked on another run for the Tigers as he drove a grounder through the left side of the Tennessee to give his squad a 3-0 advantage.
The Vols and Tigers return to action on Saturday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium for game two of the series. The game will be broadcast live on CSS and online on ESPN3 with Mike Morgan and former Vol Rusty Ensor on the call. First pitch is slated for 4 p.m. ET. A radio broadcast with John Wilkerson, “The Voice of Tennessee Baseball,” and Vince Ferrara will be available for free on UTSports.com/allaccess.