The Tennessee baseball team saw each end of the spectrum in two separate rallies on Sunday.
The first nearly cut their season a few hours short, as the Liberty Flames were just 90 feet away from sending the Vols packing before escaping in extra innings. The other rally was their own, which ultimately fell short and brought their overachieving 2019 run to an end.
After falling to Liberty on Friday, Tennessee rebounded on Saturday to set up a rematch, looking to clinch a berth in the Chapel Hill Regional Championship late Sunday afternoon.
The Vols jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first off of an Al Soularie ground-out RBI to score a run from Justin Ammons from third. They extended that lead to 3-0 with a two run second inning thanks to RBIs from Pete Derkay and Connor Pavolony.
But the Flames answered back in the following frame to cut into Tennessee’s lead, thanks to an RBI into the gap in right field off of the bat of Gray Betts to make it a 3-1 game.
In the fourth, a costly error and a single put a pair of runners on for Liberty before a two-RBI single from Tyler Galazin tied the game at 3-3.
The fifth saw the Vols grab the lead right back with an Andre Lipcius two-run homerun over the left field wall to pull ahead, 5-3, but the Flames scored again in the bottom half of the inning to pull within one.
Tennessee’s lead remained razor-thin heading into the bottom of the ninth, and it looked like Liberty was going to end the Vols season in walk-off fashion, loading up the bases and scoring off of a hit-by-pitch to tie the game at 5-5 with no outs.
The right hit or a walk would have been enough for the Flames to complete their comeback victory, but a line out to right field set up a double play for Tennessee’s infield defense to send the game into extra innings.
With runners on the corners and two outs, Jake Rucker singled into left field to bring in the go-ahead run for the Vols, putting them back in the lead once again at 6-5. Tennessee held off Liberty in the bottom of the inning to set up a regional final with North Carolina.
Based on the start of their game with the Tar Heels less than three hours later, it looked as if it would not have the same amount of intrigue after North Carolina plated four runs in the top of the first to take a 4-0 lead.
Tennessee managed to score in the second off of a wild pitch and then again in the fourth from a Soularie RBI single to cut the Tar Heels’ lead to 4-2, but North Carolina extended that lead by three with an RBI off of a bases-loaded walk in the sixth.
The Vols threatened again when down to their final three outs in the bottom of the ninth by getting two runners on with two outs, bringing the tying-run to the plate. However, they could not take advantage as their season came to a close in a 5-2 loss.
Still, the season showed marked improvement under head coach Tony Vitello in just his second season. Tennessee made an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since 2005 and finished with a 40-21 record after going just 29-27 in 2018.