After 18 innings of really solid baseball against top-ranked Arkansas, the Vols finally have something to show for it. Trailing by two runs entering the ninth, the Vols put the first two men on and Max Ferguson launched a walk-off, three-run homer to right, sealing the Vols 8-7 win.
The guy’s a winner,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said of Ferguson. “He’s certainly, as of about five weeks ago, back to being himself, if we want to beat up that topic that was brought up a lot. So it was really about him just doing whatever he thought he needed to do to help us win the game.”
Much of this game felt eerily similar to last night. The Vols took a first-inning lead, scoring twice on RBIs from Jake Rucker and Evan Russell, and Will Heflin delt early. The senior lefty flirted with a no-hitter for the first five innings, but came to a screeching halt in the sixth when he gave up two home runs that tied the game.
And once the Vols ran themselves out of a sixth inning baserunner, the momentum swung in Arkansas’ favor. The Razorbacks scored four runs over the final three innings, including Christian Franklin’s RBI ground-rule double in the top of the ninth that put them up by a pair in the top of the last.
But the Vols refused to go down. After Arkansas scored in the seventh and the eighth innings, the Vols responded with runs of their own. Ferguson and Jordan Beck each hit a solo home run that kept Arkansas from driving the final nail in.
“Max hit that first one, and he came back in the dugout and he said, ‘This thing is not over yet,’” Vitello said of Ferguson’s first home run. “And again, those emotions were kind of coming out of him. And part of me wanted to say, ‘Well year, it’s only the seventh inning, of course it’s not over yet.’ But what he meant was that we needed to get back in the fight.”
And the Vols did just that. In the bottom of the last inning, Connor Pavolony – starting in his first game since suffering a hand injury on April 25 – led off the inning with a bloop single that just fell in and turned the lineup over. Liam Spence worked a walk after a seven-pitch at-bat, setting the stage for Ferguson.
Arkansas used a mound visit to talk with its pitcher Jaxon Wiggins, and while that was happening, Ferguson had a conversation with Vitello and assistant coach Frank Anderson. Ferguson’s approach was to bunt and move the runners over, but his coaches convinced him otherwise, and he jumped on the first pitch.
“Coach (Anderson) trots out there and asks what we were doing,” Ferguson said of the conversation between him and his coaches. “And I was like ‘You said it’s up to me, what were you thinking?’ And that was when he just said, ‘I want a three-run jimmy.’ Coach Anderson saying that, I was like, ‘Alright, here we go.’”
“I think Frank put a little bit of magic dust or something on (Ferguson),” Heflin added. “Told him, ‘You know what, just hit a three-run jack.’ First pitch, you can’t really draw it up any better.”
It was a fitting way for the Vols to end their day. They battled closely with the No. 1 team in the nation, but after coming up short last night, the Vols were finally able to get the killing blow. With his two homers today Ferguson has nine on the season and four in the past two weekends.
The Vols will carry this momentum into tomorrow afternoon’s contest, where they look to take the series and move into sole possession of first place in the SEC. The Vols will start freshman Blade Tidwell, as he looks to continue a recent string of successful outings.
“I think we see a good one out of Blade tomorrow,” Heflin said. “We may see another good swing from (Ferguson), he may get bunt hit, you never know with that guy. He’s going to be a menace to the other team somehow. But somebody may step up and look like the hero tomorrow. But that’s just the way this team goes, somebody’s going to get you.”