KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- Texas A&M scored four two-out runs in the top of the ninth and held off a furious rally by Tennessee in the final frame which saw the Volunteers bring the tying run to the plate to emerge with an 8-4 victory on Friday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The loss eliminates Tennessee from SEC Tournament contention. The Vols last made the tournament in 2007.
“I'd like to say that we're just a turn of the screwdriver away from being the kind of program that I envision but we're farther away than that and that's very, very disappointing to me and disheartening to me to know that,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “But we will continue to push and push and push because this place can be special again and I want to be part of it.
“This game is such a beautiful sport because it continues to give you the same opportunities time-in and time-out and allows you to overcome what your weaknesses are and your deficiencies have been. It did that last night and it did that again tonight. Whether it was from the mound and issuing free passes late out of the bullpen to not making some plays on defense to base-running miscues to not getting big hits, that's been the theme for 51 games. It allowed us a chance tonight to overcome that and we didn't.”
For the second day in a row, Tennessee got a strong effort from its starting pitcher as junior Nick Williams struck out a career high 10 batters over 7.1 innings of work. Zack Godley fanned a personal-best 13 in Thursday night's game.
The last time the Big Orange had starting pitchers record 10+ strikeouts in back-to-back games was June 10 and 11, 2005, when Luke Hochevar and James Adkins each had 11 punchouts in Super Regional wins over Georgia Tech which sent Tennessee to the College World Series.
Williams allowed four runs on five hits and two walks in a no-decision on Friday. Drake Owenby suffered the loss for UT, yielding three runs on two hits in 1.1 innings of relief.
Jason Jester earned the win for Texas A&M with 1.1 scoreless frames in which he allowed two hits and walked one.
Offensively, Christin Stewart drove in three of Tennessee's four runs with a two-RBI single and a sacrifice fly. It marked his team-leading seventh multi-RBI game of the year and ups his season total to 27, also a team high.
Will Maddox finished the evening 1-for-3 at the plate with two walks, a run scored and three stolen bases, giving him 22 for the season.
The Vols got a big two-out hit to grab an early lead in the bottom of the first as Stewart laced a two-RBI single back up the middle to put UT up 2-0. Maddox opened the frame with a leadoff single and quickly stole second despite the Aggies picking over to first on the play. Scott Price then drew a one-out walk and a successful double steal put both runners in scoring position to set up Stewart's big base knock.
Texas A&M got a run back in each of the next two innings to tie the game but Stewart came through again in the bottom of the third to hand the lead back to the Big Orange.
It was Price's turn to lead the stanza off with a single before a walk and a wild pitch put him on third with just one out. Stewart then lifted a long sacrifice fly to the warning track in right to put Tennessee back in front, 3-2.
Both starting pitchers would settle in after that as Parker Ray and Williams put zeroes on the scoreboard from the fourth through the seventh.
After A&M's run in the top of the third, Williams would go on to retire 15 of the next 16 batters he faced until Krey Bratsen lined the first pitch of the top of the eighth into right for a single. A sac bunt would move him up to second and Mikey Reynolds brought him in just seconds later with an RBI triple off the wall in right to tie the game. The Aggies would then take the lead on an RBI single to right by Cole Lankford.
The Vols came right back to tie the game though, with Taylor Smart finishing off an epic at-bat with an RBI single to left to make it a 4-4 game. Ethan Bennett got the ball rolling by hustling out an infield single before moving to second on a groundout. Smart then proceeded to foul off seven straight 0-2 pitches before pulling a 1-2 pitch into left to bring Bennett in from second.
With the game at a deadlock, Tennessee retired two of the first three batters in the top of the ninth only to see a single and a walk load the bases. The Aggies then struck for four runs on the next six pitches with three consecutive singles off of UT reliever Trevor Bettencourt.
With its postseason hopes down to three final outs, the Orange and White was able to load the bases with two away in the bottom of the ninth, bringing the tying run to the plate after a hit-by-pitch and two walks. A groundout to first would end the contest though.
Tennessee will close out the 2013 campaign at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Vols will honor seniors Zack Godley and Zach Luther, as well as student assistants Hunter Mitchem and Andy Yates prior to the contest.
Junior southpaw Dalton Saberhagen (0-2, 5.60) will make his first start of the season on the mound while Texas A&M will go with junior right-hander Rafael Pineda (5-4, 2.87).