HOOVER, Ala. — Trailing by one going into the ninth inning, Tennessee put a runner on third with nobody out but wasn’t able to get him home, allowing Vanderbilt to squeak out a 3-2 win in the opening game of the SEC Tournament at the Hoover Met on Tuesday morning.
With one of the top pitchers in the nation on the mound for the Commodores in Carson Fulmer, UT freshman Nick Senzel greeted him with a leadoff double to left to start the top of the ninth. A balk by Fulmer then quickly moved him up to third with nobody out.
Taylor Smart proceeded to hit a hard chopper to third where VU third baseman Xavier Turner made a terrific play to tag Senzel as he was making his way back to the bag. A pick off at first and a strikeout then ended the contest.
The loss eliminates the Vols from the SEC Tournament while Vanderbilt will advance to face third-seeded LSU on Wednesday.
“Today was a microcosm about what our season has been about,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “We have a group of guys that has fought extremely hard but we just keep doing some things to get in our own way. The ninth inning was probably an example of what we have had to live with all year long. It’s a group of guys that has the will to win and they want to win for this university. They know the uphill battle that we have had over the last three years.
“The problem is coming into the SEC Tournament is just that the game got going a little too fast for us. It’s a young group. We will return probably 85-90 percent of our team so we will be back here. This was a big step for this program. I don’t want to minimize that, this was a huge step. Even though we have an earlier exit than we would have liked, it is important that our players got the feel of practicing on this field and playing on this field.”
Freshman right-hander Hunter Martin suffered the loss for UT, allowing three runs - two earned - on six hits over three innings of work. Fellow first-year Vol Kyle Serrano worked the next four frames, all scoreless, while striking out four and yielding just two hits.
In two appearances against Vanderbilt this season, Serrano pitched a total of 9.1 scoreless innings, striking out seven.
Senzel led the Vols offensively in Tuesday’s contest with three hits and a run scored while sophomores Vincent Jackson and Derek Lance drove in the team’s only two runs.
The Commodores jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, plating a pair of two-out runs in the bottom of the first inning. The Vols bounced right back in the very next frame though, getting RBI singles from Jackson and Lance to knot the game back up at 2-2.
That tie was short-lived, however, with Vanderbilt moving back out in front just minutes later when a leadoff triple and a one-out infield single brought the eventual game-winning run in.
That would be all the Commodores would need though as starting pitcher Walker Buehler yielded just two hits over the final seven innings en route to picking up his 10th win of the season.
Tennessee will head back to Rocky Top where it will await its NCAA Tournament fate. With seven wins over RPI top-25 teams and 14 over top-50 squads the Vols are hopeful their resume is worthy of an at-large berth. The 64-team field will be announced May 26.