KNOXVILLE – No. 14 Tennessee scored seven of its eight runs and hit .533 (8-for-15) with two outs on Sunday, sealing an 8-6 win over No. 29 Auburn in the series finale at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The Vols avoided their first series sweep of the season and improve to 19-4 overall and 3-3 in Southeastern Conference play with the win. Auburn falls to 17-8 overall and 4-2 in league action.
On the mound, sophomore right-hander and former Morristown West standout Andrew Lee picked up his third victory of the season. Lee gave up six hits, four runs, just one walk and struck out four over six innings pitched. He was relieved by southpaw Andy Cox, who made way for fellow lefty Drake Owenby in the ninth. Owenby worked out of a bases-loaded one-out jam to earn his fifth save of the season.
Tennessee scored five of its eight runs in the first three frames, and its first seven with two down. UT has outscored its opponents 62-18 over the first three innings this season. The Vols out-hit Auburn 13-9.
“I think when we look back after 30 conference games we will realize that this was a big game,” said head coach Dave Serrano. “Winning this game was huge. We will realize that down the line. I commend our team, after being down the first two games, we came out and scrapped and clawed.
“We had some much better at-bats offensively. What could you say about the bottom of the lineup? Taylor Smart, David Houser and Will Maddox, I think combined they had 8-of-13 hits and drove in a lot of runs. Seven of our eight runs were with two outs; that was a big confidence seal. That is what our team was doing earlier in the year.”
Hitting in the 7-hole, Smart was 3-for-4 with two RBIs, two doubles and two runs scored. Houser was 2-for-3 with two RBIs, two runs and a double at the No. 8 slot. Maddox – back in the 9-hole for the first time since Feb. 28 – posted his second three-hit game of the season. The Gainesville, Ga., native was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and a RBI triple. It was Smart’s third three-hit game of 2014. He had just one three-hit contest over 49 games as a junior.
At the top of the order leadoff man Scott Price was the beneficiary. The Leesville, S.C., native was 2-for-5 on the day with a game-high tying three RBIs. Price ranks second on the team with 20 RBIs this season.
After two quick outs to start the second inning, Smart started a two-out rally for the Vols with his third double of the season.
Houser followed with a single through the left side of the infield, bringing Smart around to score and giving the Vols their first lead of the series. Maddox got out in front on a 2-0 pitch, spinning it off the end of his bat to the shortstop. The junior hustled down the line and beat out the throw for the infield single. With runners on first and second, Price then delivered the Vols fourth-consecutive hit, driving a triple to the right-center gap to clear the bases and extend UT’s lead to 3-0.
Forcing an early exit by Auburn starter Justin Camp, Tennessee added two more runs in the third frame off left-handed reliever Michael O’Neal. Freshman Nick Senzel dropped a high fly ball into no-man’s land in right field to start things off with a double. His classmate Nathaniel Maggio walked and stole second, moving two runners into scoring position. Smart then drove his second hit of the day into left center, a two-RBI single to extend the lead to 5-0 after three frames.
One of the league’s top hitters, Damek Tomscha delivered a one-out double to left center in the fourth for Auburn.
Following a walk issued to Ryan Tella, the Tigers’ Blake Austin blasted a three-run home run well over the left field wall to get on the board and cut UT’s lead to 5-3.
Auburn got another one back in the sixth as Tella drilled a solo shot off the scoreboard in right center to trim the Tennessee lead to just one at 5-4.
The Vols came up with more clutch hits in the sixth inning, getting two runs back to re-extend their lead to three at 7-4. Following two quick outs, Houser started the rally with a double down the left field line and was brought home by Maddox’s triple to right center. It was the Vols’ second triple of the day and SEC-leading 10th of the season. Price added his second hit of the day, a single right back up the middle, to bring Maddox home and put UT on top, 7-4.
Tennessee tacked on an insurance run in the eighth as Houser brought home Smart with a sac fly to center field.
Down 8-4, Auburn made things interesting in the ninth.
The Tigers loaded the bases with three singles off Cox and scored runs on a bases-loaded walk and sac fly to cut the deficit to 8-6.
Houser took things into his own hands though as the sophomore catcher gunned down his fifth attempted base stealer at second to end the game.
The Orange and White is back in action next weekend in Columbia, S.C., where they take on No. 1 South Carolina for a three-game series.
First pitch on Friday, March 28 is slated for 7 p.m. ET.
-From Contributed Reports