KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The No. 14 Diamond Vols couldn’t get the bats going against 29th-ranked Auburn on Saturday, dropping back-to-back games and a series for the first time this season as the Tigers won by a 4-2 margin at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Tennessee is now 18-4 on the campaign, including a 2-3 mark in Southeastern Conference play. Winners of 11 of its last 12, Auburn improves to 17-7 overall and 4-1 in SEC action.
Led by freshman right-hander Keegan Thompson, the Auburn pitching staff gave up just seven hits and held the Vols to just two runs. Thompson gave up just five hits, one run and walked two over 7 1/3 innings to improve to 5-0 on the season. The rookie opened the contest by retiring the first 12 batters he faced.
“We’re in a rut right now; and as many years as I’ve been around this, it happens to teams,” said head coach Dave Serrano. “We can’t make it bigger than it is; we can’t panic. There’s always tomorrow. We can’t get miserable, we’ve got to stick together like the family we are and fight through this. It sounds kind of corny but I think the game is testing us right now, like how much do you want to fight through this to be a good club? We will get through it. The players have got to believe in it.
“Tomorrow’s another day and it’s very important that you don’t get swept in this league. Unfortunately, we’ve lost the series at home but we can’t get swept. We’ve got to come out and leave everything on the field tomorrow. They’re playing good baseball right now. That team is committed to doing a lot of things to win the game right now.”
Making just his fourth career start, freshman Hunter Martin kept the Vols in it through six innings. The Murfreesboro native gave up seven hits, but allowed only two runs – one earned – and two free passes over a career-high 91 pitches.
However, the Vols struggled offensively for the second-straight game, leaving seven men on and hitting 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Scott Price, Will Maddox and Christin Stewart accounted for six of UT’s seven hits, each going 2-for-4 on the day. Price had the Vols’ only extra-base hit, a double to lead off the eighth inning. Junior catcher Tyler Schultz added the other knock for UT.
Auburn’s Ryan Tella led off the second inning with a hard-hit single off the glove of a diving Nathaniel Maggio at first base. The ball ricocheted right at Maddox at second, who tried making the play but threw the ball past Martin covering at first, allowing Tella to move into scoring position. A sac bunt moved him over to third base before Damon Haecker delivered a two-out RBI single to right field on a full count to put the Tigers on the board.
The Tigers tacked on another run in the fourth on three hits and a UT error. With a runner on third, Auburn executed the squeeze play to bring in the run. Haecker placed the bunt perfectly down the first base line to bring in Daniel Robert and take a 2-0 lead. Haecker was 2-for-4 with a game-high two RBIs.
Tennessee got its first base runner in the fifth inning as freshman designated hitter Nick Senzel drew a full-count walk. The Vols also broke up Thompson’s no-hitter and retired batter streak in the frame as Stewart looped a single over first base. Thompson worked out of the inning with two groundouts and a fly out to hang onto the 2-0 lead.
Tennessee left the bases loaded for the fourth time of the series in the sixth. UT loaded the bags on singles by Price and Maddox and a base on balls drawn by Senzel. Stewart put a charge into one on a 1-0 count, lifting it to deep right field, but Auburn’s Sam Gillikin got under it to make the grab on the warning track to retire the side.
Following Martin’s exit, the Tigers strung together two singles, a triple and a double off Kyle Serrano to tack on two more runs in the seventh. It could have been worse, but Tennessee was able to cut down two Tigers at home off perfectly-executed relays. The Vols have now thrown out 10 players at the plate this season.
Thompson gave up a leadoff double to Price and got Simcox to fly out before being pulled for righty Jay Wade after 107 pitches in the eighth inning. UT followed the leadoff knock with an infield single from Maddox, placing runners on the corners with one down. Senzel put the Orange and White on the board with a slow-roller to the Auburn second baseman, bringing home Price to cut the lead to 4-1. Stewart then delivered his second hit of the day, a RBI single smacked back up the middle to cut the deficit to two. Wade got Vincent Jackson to ground out and end the threat.
Right-handers Trevor Bettencourt and Josh Peterson worked 2 1/3 combined scoreless innings to give the Vols a fighting chance in the ninth. But UT was unable to get things going off Auburn closer Terrance Dedrick, who earned the save for the second night in a row.
UT will look to salvage the series on Sunday in the finale. First pitch between the Vols and Tigers is slated for 2 p.m. Sophomore right-hander Andrew Lee will get the ball for the Vols, while Auburn will send out righty Justin Camp. The game can be heard live on WNML “The Sports Animal” with John Wilkerson and Vince Ferrara on the call. A free webcast will also be available on UTSports.com/allaccess.