The No. 1 Tennessee Vols played just their second rubber match of the season Sunday and came out on top 5-3 over No. 19 Auburn behind an eighth inning push.
“Showing up today was kind of the first time where you showed up to the park and had that feel like an elimination type game,” head coach Tony Vitello said. “Like a regional or a super-regional or with your season on the line or maybe down in Hoover. It’s phenomenal for our guys to experience that.”
Jordan Beck was the man of the game again Sunday, hitting a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to put Tennessee ahead.
“He might be the most explosive hitter in college baseball,” Vitello said. “Where anything crazy – even just a line drive out – anything crazy can happen at any moment because he’s so explosive.”
Beck went down 0-2 in the count before squaring up with the ball that would give Tennessee the win.
“I kind of set that up at the previous at bat,” Beck said. “They had fed me all breaking balls and I was like, alright I’m just going to commit to one pitch here and I swung through one and I was like I’m not going to swing through another, I’ve got to focus and keep my head on it, and I did on the last one.”
Before Beck’s late homer, the Vols hadn’t scored since the first inning when Trey Lipscomb hit a two-run homer to give Tennessee an early 3-0 lead.
Auburn had a rally midway through the game with a homer and a pair of RBIs to tie the game up at three, but couldn’t answer Beck’s home run in the ninth.
“I knew it was coming,” Vitello said. “We expected it. They’re well coached, play hard, a lot of talent up and down the lineup. It’s pretty good for our guys to know they’re not invincible. I think the way they act sometimes people might think that, but they’re just a confident group that likes to compete, but everyone needs to be reminded a little bit that you can be humbled by this game really quick.”
With the win Sunday, Tennessee clinched its seventh SEC series and picked up its 40th win of the season to improve to 40-4 and 18-2 in conference play.
The Vols haven’t had much pressure on Sundays this season, but in their two rubber matches they have gone undefeated, proving that Tennessee can respond well in big situations.
These are the kinds of situations that will help the team down the road in high-stakes, win-or-go-home situations in the postseason.
“Coach V says it all the time,” Beck said. “You’ve got to have every kind of win you can get. It just adds to the rolodex. It’s good for us to be behind. Honestly, it’s good for us to lose. It was all good this weekend and it helped us out a lot.”