No. 1 Tennessee was handed its biggest challenge yet as No. 19 Auburn came into town for a weekend series.
The Vols ultimately won the series but were dealt their second SEC loss of the season in the process, and they were challenged more by the Tigers than by any other team they’ve faced this season. That adversity was much needed, and it will benefit the team in the long run.
Here are three takeaways from the Vols’ seventh SEC series win.
Vols explode late in game one
“The fireworks to place on the field, and then they took place off the field,” head coach Tony Vitello said following Tennessee’s win Friday night.
He was referencing the explosive final two innings of the game followed by the fireworks show put on at Lindsey Nelson Stadium after the game. Fireworks are the only way to describe Tennessee’s seventh and eighth inning on Friday.
Tennessee trailed 4-2 heading into the seventh inning, and then the Vols’ offense came to life.
Cortland Lawson singled through to left side of the field to drive in a run, and Christian Moore got on base to set up a bases loaded situation for Jorel Ortega. Ortega settled into the box and hit a moonshot to left center for a grand slam, giving the Vols a 7-4 lead.
Then later in the inning, Evan Russell gave the Vols some insurance with a three-run homer to make it a 10-4 game.
But the Vols weren’t done.
In the eighth inning, Blake Burke led off the inning with a 435-foot bomb to right center. Ortega hit another, Trey Lipscomb hit one and Russell ended the night with one last homer to make it a final score of 17-4.
The Vols ended the game with 15 runs on 15 hits in the final 19 at-bats and six home runs, winning soundly.
Auburn’s big inning
Friday night’s game was decided in the final innings, and Saturday was no different, except this time Auburn came out on top.
Tennessee led 5-4 after the seventh inning where Drew Gilbert had a clutch RBI single to drive in Lawson, and the Vols were in good position with their closer, Redmond Walsh, coming back out on the mound.
But Auburn wasn’t going out easily.
Kason Howell hit an RBI double to tie things up. The Vols walked Auburn’s best hitter, Sonny DiChiara, but it didn’t matter, because Bobby Peirce hit a three-run homer to make it an 8-5 game.
The Vols showed signs for a rally in the bottom of the ninth as Lawson hit a lead-off homer to get things started, but that was all Tennessee could get and it lost its second SEC game of the season.
Tennessee went on to win Sunday’s rubber match 5-3 after a big home run from Jordan Beck sealed the deal in the eighth inning, and the Vols won their seventh SEC series.
Ultimately, Tennessee walked away from this weekend having faced some much-needed adversity. There is no question that the Vols have had their way with the majority of their opponents this season, so taking on a talented Auburn team and having to overcome a Saturday loss was a big feat for the Vols.
“Coach V says it all the time,” Beck said following Sunday’s win. “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.”
This series was the type of high-pressure situation that Vitello expects his team to face down the line in the season and in the postseason.
“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.”