In a game that was dominated by pitching, Tennessee was able to hold on to the game late to defeat Mississippi State 2-1 on Saturday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Both teams were able to limit the offense of the other, with only three runs on eight hits combined in the game.
Zach Linginfelter got the start for Tennessee on Saturday, pitching 6.2 innings giving up five hits and just one earned run. This was a huge bounce back game for the junior right-hander after he did not have a good game last week at Vanderbilt. In that game, Linginfelter gave seven earned runs in just 1.1 innings.
“It is always good to bounce back, you don’t ever want to be in the position where you have to bounce back, but I felt good tonight,” Linginfelter said. “I don’t think my stuff was honestly not that great tonight, but I was able to use the fastball and move it around.”
The starter for Mississippi State, Peyton Plumlee, was just as effective giving up two runs (one earned) and two hits through 5.1 innings. The Bulldogs’ normal Saturday starter, JT Ginn, was a late scratch today due to soreness.
Ginn was a first-round draft pick out of high school, but decided to go to school to play for the Bulldogs. It is unknown whether Ginn will pitch in the series finale tomorrow.
In a game that was so hard-pressed for offense, both teams were trying to score runs in whatever way possible. The Bulldogs were able to score first in the fourth, giving them a 1-0 lead. After an Elijah MacNamee single with one out, he was able to advance to second on a wild pitch. The Bulldogs took advantage as Justin Foscue singled to center to put the Bulldogs on top.
Tennessee scored both of its runs in the fifth, both coming off of an error by pitcher Peyton Plumlee. The way the error occurred was one of the most bizarre plays in baseball. After Max Ferguson led off the inning with a walk, Jake Rucker singled to right. After Landon Gray laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third, things got a little crazy.
“It was earned with Rucker executing, and Gray executing a bunt to be in that position in the first place,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said. “With what these guys do around here every day and how they have competed, they deserved a break.”
After the Bulldog pitcher received the ball, he held the ball up to indicate to the umpire to indicate a time out. However, the umpire did not acknowledge the time call, and Plumlee threw the ball into the dugout.
That is when the home plate umpire signaled a dead ball and gave the runners each two bases. That decision by the umpires allowed two Tennessee runs to score, and gave the Vols a 2-1 lead. Those two runs would end up being the deciding runs in the game.
“I have seen that in a baseball game, but not scoring the runs,” Vitello said. “I truly feel like our team deserved a break like that, and it certainly was a break.”
With one out in the sixth, the Tennessee coaches went to the bullpen to bring in Redmond Walsh, who was able to save the game for the Vols, holding down the Bulldogs for the rest of the game. Walsh threw 2.1 innings, giving up zeros hits to go along with three strikeouts.
“That’s what you dream of, is going out there in an SEC game to close the ball game, and going in for the save,” Walsh said. “Coach has a lot more trust in me this year and just knows that I am going to give everything I’ve got for the team.”
Following the game, there was a sense of relief for the Tennessee players being able to bounce back from a tough extra inning loss last night.
During post-game interviews, Evan Russell entered onto the field with a baby squirrel on his shoulder. According to Redmond, the squirrel was found outside the dugout and has now become a team mascot for the team.
“We were walking in today, and we saw this little baby sitting outside,” Walsh said. “We didn’t want it to die so Russell picked it up and it’s our pet now.”
We will see if the Vols can contain the momentum from the win and the rally squirrel tomorrow afternoon as the rubber match of the series against the Bulldogs is scheduled for 2 p.m.