Tennessee rallied to tie the game after trailing by five runs early, but Auburn answered with seven two-out runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to claim a series-opening 12-5 victory on Friday night at Plainsman Park.
"I'll look at the positive side first," UT head coach Dave Serrano said. "We were down 5-0 and obviously Zack Godley is injured and we are trying to piecemeal a pitching staff together. I wanted to get a better outing out of Nick (Williams) and we didn't get it, but I thought we got it stopped and the offense started clicking a little bit.
"We got back in the game and then they brought in some of their relievers and stopped us. We couldn't get that sixth run across and our bullpen kind of imploded there in the eighth inning. The final score doesn't dictate how good of a game it was through seven innings. I thought both teams were fighting and clawing like two teams that are fighting and clawing to get into the SEC Tournament."
After falling behind 5-0 after three innings, Tennessee posted one of its most impressive comebacks of the season, rallying back with five runs over the next three innings to tie the game up at 5-5.
Although the Vols held the Tigers off the scoreboard for four straight frames while bringing the contest back to a deadlock, Auburn plated seven runs, all with two outs, in the bottom of the eighth en route to the win.
Freshman Will Maddox was solid out of the leadoff spot for the Big Orange, going 2-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI. Drew Steckenrider also posted a multi-hit contest, going 2-for-3 with a run and a pair of walks.
Pulling double duty, Steckenrider (2-6) suffered the loss for UT after yielding two runs on four hits in 3.2 innings of relief. Freshman Conner Stevens recorded his fourth straight strong outing of the bullpen, holding Auburn hitless over an inning and a third. In his last four appearances, he has allowed just one unearned run over 10.2 innings of work while striking out six.
Derek Varnadore (2-6) picked up the win for Auburn, limiting Tennessee to just a hit and a walk over the final three frames on Friday night.
Leadoff doubles in both the second and third innings led to runs for the Tigers as they jumped out to a 5-0 lead after RBI singles by Zach Alvord, Garrett Cooper and Jay Gonzales and a two-run double by Alvord.
Undeterred by Auburn's quick start, the UT comeback started with a three-spot in the fourth, opening the frame with a walk and three straight singles. Davis Morgan and Chris Fritts each drove in a run with their base knocks, while Jake Rowland followed with an RBI groundout on a chopper to third to plate UT's third run of the inning.
Tennessee quickly tacked on another run in the fifth as Maddox led things off with a double to left before coming home to score just two pitches later on an RBI single up the middle by Zach Osborne.
The Orange and White finished off the comeback in the next inning, getting a run-scoring groundout from Maddox after a leadoff single by Chris Pierce, a walk and a sac bunt by Zach Luther.
Auburn threatened to grab the lead back in both the sixth and seventh innings, putting two runners on in both frames but Steckenrider came through with two big inning-ending strikeouts to thwart both efforts.
That wouldn't be the case in the eighth, however, as Auburn scored seven two-out runs en route to the win.
Tennessee will look to even the weekend series on Saturday when the two teams meet again at 3 p.m. CT. Freshman righthander Robbie Kidd (2-1, 4.02) will take the mound for the Vols, while Auburn will counter with southpaw Daniel Koger (2-4, 2.95).
"We used a lot more pitching than I anticipated tonight and we are going to need Robbie to step up and give us some solid innings tomorrow. We are going to need someone to rise to the occasion, not just on the mound but on the field too. We are down right now. There's no doubt about it. We are down, but tomorrow is a new day and that is the only way to look at it."
University of Tennessee