There were only three scoreless innings in Sunday’s rubber match between Tennessee and Mississippi State. It was a back-and-forth game, as the Bulldogs took the 7-5 win over Tennessee to improve to 7-5 in SEC play. With the loss Tennessee falls to 4-8.
“We need to find a way to get it done,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “There are no medals being handed out to these guys for second place… We’re able to beat teams like that. We’re able to beat teams like Vanderbilt… We need to find a way to get it done.”
For the eighth time in nine games, Tennessee scored in the opening inning. Andre Lipcius got the scoring going by doubling down the leftfield line, plating Justin Ammons. After Al Soularie singled, Pete Derkay picked up his fifth RBI of the year on a groundout.
Soularie turned in a solid performance at the plate going 4-for-4 with a double and an RBI.
“Just seeing the ball,” Soularie said. “Relying on my hand speed and I was reacting to the fastball.”
It wouldn’t take Mississippi State long to respond, as Rowdey Jordan led off the third inning homering to right field.
Tennessee answered with a run of its own in the bottom half of the third. Keegan James hit both Jay Charleston and Lipcius before Soularie’s single gave the Vols a 3-1 lead. Tennessee got a runner on third with one-out in the inning but failed to get him in due to a pair of groundouts.
Tennessee’s starting pitcher Will Neely ran into trouble in the fourth inning as he gave up three straight singles to lead off the inning. The third one scored a run, but Charleston was able to throw a runner out at third for out number one. Neely was able to pick up out number two, but then hit Dustin Skelton to give the Bulldogs a pair of baserunners.
Jordan was the next batter and he hit a hard line drive that hit Neely in the ankle. The play loaded the bases for Mississippi State and ended the day for Neely, as he exited the game due to injury.
The injury is a deep bruise on his ankle, and the senior is questionable to make his start next weekend against Georgia.
Will Heflin came in in relief and walked in the game tying run before getting Brad Cumbest to ground out to end the inning.
“Will didn’t come in and throw strikes right away and that’s what he needs to do,” Vitello said. “He’s not a power pitcher. Schultzy (Andrew Schultz), Lingo (Zach Linginfelter) those guys have stuff they can back it up with if they don’t throw the first punch, but a couple times this weekend we didn’t do that.”
Tanner Allen gave Mississippi State its first lead of the day in the fifth inning, taking a two-out, 2-1 pitch deep for a solo homer.
The Bulldogs extended the lead in the sixth inning. Andrew Schultz hit two Mississippi State batters before Jake Mangum doubled down the right field line, pushing the lead to 6-3.
It seemed like the Vols may have been done after the two run inning, but Zach Daniels wouldn’t allow it, as he launched a moonshot two run homer to pull Tennessee back within one.
Tennessee wasn’t done on the inning, getting runners on the corners with nobody out thanks to a Bulldogs throwing error and a Max Ferguson bunt single. Tennessee couldn’t capitalize though, as Jake Rucker’s bunt didn’t go far enough to allow the runner to get home and Connor Pavolony chopped one to the pitcher, who caught Ricky Martinez in a rundown, securing the second out of the inning.
“Those aren’t baserunning misexecutions,” Vitello said. “Those are situations where our hitter didn’t get the job done. Our guy’s going on contact.”
The failure to even up the game in the sixth came back to bite the Vols, as Mississippi State tallied one more run in the eighth inning, which was good enough to secure the 7-5 win.
Tennessee returns to action Tuesday night when the Volunteers host Lipscomb at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.