Tennessee headed to the SEC Tournament hoping to win its first game at the event since 2007, but the team will have to wait another year as Auburn overcame the Vols for a 5-3 final Tuesday.
Tennessee’s bats struggled at the plate, collecting only four hits, which is the second lowest amount on the season.
“I think their command was pretty good tonight,” Tennessee third-basemen Andre Lipcius said. “They were throwing a lot of strikes. Those lefties caught us off balance. We’ve seen a lot of righties the past couple weeks. All they threw were lefties except that one at-bat to me, and Greenhill in the ninth.”
It was Tennessee’s first SEC Tournament appearance since 2016 and the first for nearly every player on this year’s team.
“It’s just baseball,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “This is a pretty special place, but it’s not Omaha. A couple guys thought we were in game three of the championship game in Omaha… I just think a few guys changed who they were because of the setting.”
Lipcius got the Vols going in the first, as the junior singled to give the Vols a baserunner with one-out. Al Soularie singled and Evan Russell walked loading the bases for the Vols.
Auburn’s pitching coach came to the mound and settled the Elliot Anderson as the Tigers started got a pair of flyouts, including a sac fly from Evan Russell that got the Vols on the board.
Tennessee’s Garrett Stallings ran into trouble in the second inning as a single and walk gave Auburn a pair of baserunners with one-out.
Stallings was able to get a flyout for out number two, but Edouard Julien sky high fly ball landed in no man’s land in center field between a pair of Vols. The double scored both Tiger runners and gave Auburn a 2-1 lead.
Tennessee evened things up in the fifth inning thanks to some command problems from Auburn’s pitchers.
Christian Scott worked a leadoff walk and reached third on a pair of wild pitches before Jay Charleston walked ending Anderson’s day.
Anderson ended the day with four innings pitched allowing two runs on three hits and four walks, adding six strikeouts.
Freshman Will Morrison relieved Anderson facing just one batter, getting Lipcius to ground out.
Lefthander Bailey Horn came in for Auburn getting Soularie to pop out. Auburn wasn’t able to completely escape the jam as a third wild pitch allowed Scott to score.
After walking Russell, Horn would escape the inning getting Jake Rucker to groundout.
“I thought that was a huge inning to get out of for us,” Auburn head coach Butch Thompson said. “That’s two runners on with nobody out for the meat of their lineup. We did some damage control.”
It wouldn’t take Auburn long to reclaim the lead as a pair of singles from Julien and Kason Howell gave the Tigers runners on the corners with one-out.
A successful squeeze play gave Auburn the lead, and no one was covering first base after Derkay charged the ball allowing for Judd Ward to reach base safely. Stallings would then walk Ryan Bliss loading the bases for Auburn.
With his back against the wall Stallings answered the bell, fanning a pair of Auburn batters to escape the inning only allowing one run.
Stallings day ended after the fifth, as the junior allowed three runs on five hits and three walks, while striking out five.
After a 1-2-3 sixth inning, Tennessee’s Camden Sewell struggled in the seventh as Auburn blew the game open.
Sewell walked the Tigers nine hitter, Kason Howell, before Judd Ward took a 1-1 pitch over the right field wall, extending Auburn’s lead to 5-2.
Zach Daniels pinch hit homer in the top of the ninth knocked Horn out of the game, and cut Auburn’s lead to 5-3.
Despite entering the game with a 8.57 ERA Horn turned in an excellent outing allowing just one run, one hit, and one walk while striking out six in four innings.
“He’s a very good pitcher,” Vitello said. “He had great junior college numbers. His numbers aren’t that great this year, but they’re a heck of a lot better after tonight because he just went out there and played.”
Tennessee will now have to wait and see as its fate is in the hands of the NCAA Selection Committee. Recent projections have had Tennessee in the field of 64 for the NCAA Tournament, but the Vols remain on the bubble.