KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– No. 1 Tennessee and No. 19 Auburn went at it over the weekend in an electric three-game series. However, it was the Vols that ended up on top, taking game three in a 5-3 win to take the series on Sunday afternoon.
The Vols (40-4, 19-2 SEC) got off to an early start thanks to a Drew Gilbert sacrifice fly to center field. However, it was Trey Lipscomb with his 18th home run of the season that gave the Vols an early three-run lead.
Auburn starting pitcher Joseph Gonzalez was able to keep Tennessee in check after the first inning, holding the Vols scoreless through the seventh inning. However, the Tigers couldn’t contain Tennessee for long.
It started with a Luc Lipcius one-out single to left field before Jordan Beck stepped up to the plate and took a 2-2 fastball to deep left field for his 11th home run of the season. Both teams had been fighting the wind all day and Beck’s home run was able to overcome the natural forces and give Tennessee alate lead, one that proved to be the difference in Sunday’s rubber match.
Tennessee freshman starter Drew Beam faced the minimum through four innings before he ran into a rough fifth inning. The freshman gave up a solo home run to Auburn’s Bobby Pierce and an RBI to cut the Tennessee lead to one, before giving up the tying run in the sixth. Beam ended his day going five innings, giving up three runs on six hits, striking out four and walking two.
Despite Beck’s heroics, it was Tennessee relief man Ben Joyce who stole the show on Sunday. The redshirt junior tossed four scoreless innings, while striking out six Auburn batters. Joyce came into the game against the Tigers who were gaining momentum on a cold Tennessee team, then proceeded to shut them down with his array of 103 mph fastballs and his low 80s slider.
Joyce also pitched himself into the record books, recording the second fastest pitch in baseball history (fastest in college baseball), throwing a 105.5 mph fastball in the seventh. In fact, out of 33 fastballs thrown by Joyce, 28 balls were 103 mph or higher, 15 balls were 104 or higher, and three balls were 105 or higher.
The junior has become a valuable weapon in the Vols bullpen, and continues to out do himself with every outing. Sunday was Joyce’s longest outing of 2022, showing is value as a reliable length guy for the Vols when needed. Both Joyce and Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello believe that Joyce can step into a bigger role for the Vols, potentially as a starter.
Tennessee’s series against Auburn proved to be the Vols’ biggest challenge of 2022.
It started in Friday’s game one when the Tigers held a late lead over the Vols in a competitive game before Tennessee launched six home runs in their final two innings at the plate in a dominant 17-4 win.
In that game, Jorel Ortega homered twice, including the go-ahead grand slam. Evan Russell homered also twice, and Trey Lipscomb and Blake Burke each homered once in the win.
Russell’s second home run on Friday was the Vols’ 100th home run of the year. The century mark was reached in just 42 games, compared to 2021 when the Vols hit 98 home runs in 68 games.
Saturday’s game got chippy between the two teams who both entered the weekend with seven-game winning streaks.
Game two was back and forth with the Vols taking a one-run lead in the seventh inning. Auburn, however, was able to explode for four runs in the ninth inning, including a three-run home run from Pierce. The home run sparked some yelling between the two teams and a moment where the benches about cleared after Pierce flipped his bat towards the Tennessee dug out and Vitello threw it back to the Auburn bench.
Auburn took game two with the 8-6 win to force Sunday’s rubber match, where the Vols won their 40th game of the year and took their 10th straight series.
Tennessee hit nine home runs against Auburn, pushing their nation and league-leading total to 103 home runs in just 44 games, and average of 2.34 home runs per game. The Vols have five players with double digit home run totals, led by Lipscomb with 18 and followed by Beck, Lipcius, and Ortega with 11, and Russell with 10.
The Vols have just three more series left before the end of the season. They travel to Lexington next week to face Kentucky, before coming back to Knoxville to face a solid Georgia team for the final home series. Tennessee will end its 2022 regular season with a road trip to Starkville, where they will face the reigning national champions in Mississippi St.
The Vols also have three more midweek games left, starting with Tuesday night’s matchup with Alabama A&M at 6 p.m. E.T.
Tennessee currently leads in the SEC standings, with a five-game conference lead and a six-game overall lead over Arkansas. The Vols lead the East over Georgia by seven games and are in prime position to easily take the SEC regular season title as they are set to face a struggling Kentucky and Mississippi St.
The Vols are just eight SEC wins away from having the most conference wins in a single season, which is currently held by the 2013 Vanderbilt team that went 26-3 in league play. Tennessee has nine more SEC games left on the schedule, meaning that if they sweep two series and win the other, they will obtain the record.