No. 1 Tennessee baseball falls short after ninth inning comeback, Evansville forces super regional game three.

By Griffin Hadley, Sports Director

Photo credit: Tennessee Athletics

After suffering a loss by six runs Friday, Evansville (39-25) stormed back in game two, defeating Tennessee (54-12) and forcing a winner-take-all game three.  

The Aces offensive came alive in the fourth inning and never slowed down, putting up crooked numbers in three straight frames, opening up a five-run lead over the Vols.  

After three empty innings from the Tennessee offense, the Vols made it interesting late.  

After two walks and a Billy Amick single Hunter Ensley blasted a single into the center field wall, just inches away from a game-changing grand slam.  

Ensley’s RBI started the scoring for the Vols in the ninth, and they would go on to add two more in the frame. Christian Moore flew out with the bases loaded to end the contest, evening the super regional series 1-1. 

“We always have confidence that we are one inning away,” first baseman Blake Burke said. “I feel like we just need to have better at-bats thorughout the game tomorrow for us to have a chance.” 

Early on the Tennessee offense wasted no time as Burke hit his second first-inning homer of the super regional. The junior took Evansville starter Donovan Schultz yard on the first pitch he saw, putting Tennessee on the board early. 

Dylan Dreiling and Hunter Ensley caught the long ball bug, delivering solo homers over the right-center and left field walls. Tennessee starting pitcher Drew Beam sat down the Aces in order in the bottom of the first thanks to a diving catch made by Kavares Tears in right field. 

The Vols offense kept the ball rolling in the second after Dean Curley worked an eight-pitch lead-off walk. Cal Stark blasted a double and Christian Moore walked aboard forcing Evansville to make a move to the pen.

Burke launched a sacrifice fly into right-center, bringing Curley in for one more. The Purple Aces’ reliever Jakob Meyer was able to limit the damage, stranding two Vols to end the top half of the inning. 

After a quiet third inning, Tennessee stranded two in the fourth, including one in scoring position. This started a trend of leaving runners on base throughout the middle innings. 

Evansville notched their first two hits of the game in the bottom of the fourth, reaching on an infield single and a double. After taking advantage of multiple Tennessee defensive miscues the Aces brought in their first run of the day on a sacrifice ground out 

Evansville second baseman Cal McGinnis brought the Aces within one with a two-run shot to right-center, briefly silencing the rowdy Lindsey Nelson crowd. 

To start the fifth Dreiling walked and stole second, putting himself in scoring position with no outs. Tears blasted a double to right bringing in Dreiling and getting one back, extending the Tennessee lead to 5-3. 

After a Curley walk, Bradke Lohry flew out to center, stranding two more, extending the number of Vols left on base to six. 

In the bottom half of the fifth the Aces put up another three spot, finding the gaps in the Tennessee defense, taking their first lead of the game. Evansville’s fourth run marked the end of Beam’s day after four and two-thirds. Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello turned to Kirby Connell for the final out of the frame. 

“[Beam] was very sharp early on,” Vitello said. “You try to be careful with guys and it gets sideways.” 

After a two out double from Chase Hug the Vols went back to the bullpen, this time opting for Nate Snead. Brent Widder knocked through a single and tied the game for the Aces. Cal McGinnis knocked a base hit to center but was thrown out at second to end the inning, however the run still counted, giving the Aces the lead 6-5.  

“At no point are they ever going to go away easy,” Vitello said. 

In the sixth Moore and Burke both worked walks and navigated into scoring position after a lost ball, however Dreiling rolled into a ground out at second, ending the inning. The Vols stranded their seventh and eighth base runners of the game, six of which were in scoring position. 

Evansville continued to take advantage in the sixth, adding two more after a wacky two-run homer from catcher Brendan Hord. The junior lifted a sky ball to left that hooked around the foul pole, good enough for the Aces second long ball of the day.

After hitting Mark Shallenberger Snead’s day was done, and Tennessee turned to Andrew Behnke in relief. Behnke was greeted with another two-run homer, extending the Evansville lead to five, opening up the game in their favor of the Aces.

Tennessee continued their offensive struggles in the seventh and eighth as no one reached the base paths. 

“They switched pitchers and it took a while for us to adjust,” Vitello said. 

Vitello turned to JJ Garcia in the bottom of the eighth, who had just ten innings of work coming into the contest. Garcia, the usual ninth inning midweek closer, handled business allowing no further damage.

The rally in the top of the ninth got Tennessee fans out of their seats, but the Vols didn’t have quite enough at the end to finish off the comeback. In total, Tennessee stranded eleven total base runners.

The super regional series now sits at one game a piece setting up a winner-take-all game three on Sunday evening. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. EST where the Vols will be the home team after taking the role as the visiting ball club this afternoon.