Max Ferguson-Baseball

KNOXVILLE, TN - April 09, 2021 - Infielder/Outfielder Max Ferguson #2 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

The No. 6 Tennessee baseball team took its midweek matchup with Tennessee Tech in walk-off fashion, winning 3-2 Tuesday night. It was a tight contest all night, but Max Ferguson’s walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth was the difference.

The Vols started Jason Rackers for this midweek game, he gave the Vols a quality start, settling in after a first-inning run. He allowed his first two batters to reach, and a passed ball put them both in scoring position with no outs. Rackers would strike out two, but not before a ground out from Golston Gillespie brought in a run.

Rackers settled in after the first, and pitched into the fourth inning. He got a quick ground out, but walked and hit the next two batters, and he was taken out. Will Mabrey rolled a double play to end the inning, and Rackers ended the night with just the one run allowed.

“I think he did fairly well,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello said on Rackers. “We probably stretched him a little too much. When he’s in the zone, I felt like he got some uncomfortable swings. And that’s a good thing, because he’s usually kind of a pitch to contact guy.”

In total, Rackers went 3.1 innings and struck out four, both of which were a new career-high. He allowed one hit and one walk, though he did hit two batters. He has made a pretty good case to be a bullpen arm in an SEC weekend series.

Like Rackers, Tennessee Tech’s starter, Mark Leonard also gave up a run in the first inning. With one out, Leonard hit Logan Steenstra with a pitch, who subsequently moved into scoring position on a wild pickoff attempt. Drew Gilbert then singled in Steenstra from second, tying the game at 1-1.

Leonard ran into trouble in the third, and he was pulled after walking Evan Russell. The righthander Brock Myers came on in relief for Tennessee Tech, and got a flyout to end the inning. He would stifle the Vols’ bats for the next 5.0 innings, allowing just four baserunners, while striking out six.

Unfortunately for Myers, one of the batters who reached was Jordan Beck. The Hazel Green, Alabama native drilled a solo shoot deep to left, his seventh homer of the year and the Vols lead 2-1 in the sixth.

“I think he relaxed a little bit with two strikes, and he got into his legs a little bit more, and he launched that thing,” Vitello said on Beck’s home run.

“Y’all have seen Jordan in that jersey, he’s a freak of nature,” Max Ferguson said. “All of us have the upmost confidence in him, especially at the plate, he’s an absolute animal. . . I really think he’s about to start doing what we all know Jordan can do.”

It looked as the score would stay here, as Gilbert gave the Vols two shutout innings on the mound, and junior Elijah Pleasants worked a scoreless seventh. However in the eighth, Pleasants walked his leadoff man, Brett Roberts, and Sean Hunley was brought in. Roberts promptly stole second and third, and scored on an infield single, tying the game at 2-2.

Tennessee missed a scoring opportunity in the bottom of the eighth, but not in the ninth. Jordan Beck led off with a walk, and advanced to second on Christian Scott’s sacrifice bunt. The Golden Eagles walked Liam Spence to face Max Ferguson, which turned out to be the wrong decision.

Ferguson lined the 1-2 pitch to right field, and at first glance, Beck scored from second, beating the throw home. The play was challenged, but upheld, and the Vols won 3-2.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play there with two strikes. Just trying to make something happen for the team,” Ferguson said.

The Vols’ second baseman has looked more relaxed at the plate of late, as Vitello has stuck with Ferguson at the top of the lineup despite some struggles. The hits are starting to come for him, and his batting average has climbed over 20 points since the Florida series, from .217 to .238.

“The last couple weeks have been, not really working on anything mechanically, just trying to be myself in the box and go out there and have fun,” Ferguson said. “And the last couple of weeks, I’ve really been able to do that, and really try do anything I can to help this team win.”

Tennessee is now tied for the most wins in the country at 30-8, though it sits in a tie for second in the SEC East at 10-5. The Vols should have a much easier series ahead of them, as they go on the road against 4-11 Texas A&M. The series will begin Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

“There is something that I know this team has always enjoyed doing,” Ferguson said. “And that’s going on the road and kind of being the bad guy in a sense. And that’s something that we do like doing, and we’re looking forward to it this weekend.”

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