Georgia walks-off No. 13 Vols following pair of ninth inning mistakes

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Georgia walked off No. 13 Tennessee 5-4 on Saturday afternoon on a two-run RBI single from Bulldogs shortstop Cole Tate. The Vols made two mistakes in the bottom of the ninth inning to put runners on base, which led to Georgia evening up the series at a game apiece.

Riley King hit a single to lead off the ninth inning and start the rally. King hit it right to Jake Rucker at third, but the Vols’ third baseman bobbled it as he tried to reel in the hard-hit baseball. A batter later, Tennessee (16-4, 1-1 SEC) closer Redmond Walsh (L, 2-1) struggled to field a bunt. Walsh misfired on the throw to first which put Bulldogs (14-4, 1-1 SEC) on first and second with no outs. After a bunt advanced the runners on first and second, Tate delivered the knockout punch with two outs.

Tennessee led for most of the game. It jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first, similar to how it did on Friday night to win the series-opener 11-6 and give Tony Vitello his 100th career win. After Liam Spence reached on an error by the shortstop and a double by Pete Derkay, Drew Gilbert hit an RBI single. Luc Lipcius would later walk with the bases loaded to drive in the second run of the frame.

Georgia wouldn’t scratch its first run across until the third inning of senior lefty Will Heflin’s fourth start of the season. Heflin pitched 3.1 innings and his only run allowed came on a sacrifice fly in the third frame to cut Tennessee’s lead in half to 2-1. He gave up five hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out two on the afternoon.

“Will (Heflin) pitched his but off and caught a couple of bad breaks,” Vitello said. “We just came up short in making some plays. A few too many at-bats that weren’t as competitive as they need to be despite facing good pitching.”

Sophomore Mark McLaughlin relieved Heflin in the fourth inning with a runner on first and quickly shutdown a potential Georgia rally. McLaughlin got Tennessee out of the inning and cruised until the bottom of the sixth inning.

With two outs, McLaughlin gave up a walk and a single to left field. Fellow sophomore Kirby Connell relieved McLaughlin, but couldn’t get the Vols out of the jam. King doubled to left field off of Connell to drive in two runs and give Georgia a 3-2 lead. Both runs were credited to McLaughlin, who gave up two hits, a walk and struck out three in 2.2 innings of work. King’s double was the only hit or walk Connell gave up over 1.1 innings. Connell struck out one of the five batters he faced.

Tennessee quickly answered back. Spence led off the top of the seventh with a single. Two hitters later, Rucker hit his third home run of the season, a two-run shot that put the Vols in front 4-3. It was the last runs Tennessee would push across prior to Georgia’s walk-off in the ninth inning.

The Vols had plenty of opportunities throughout the day to put more runs on the board. They failed to do so, as they were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and 1-for-10 when hitting with two outs. Georgia was 3-for-9, and 5-for-12, in the same situations, respectively.

“There’s two ways to look at it,” Vitello. “You can look at it as we knocked (Georgia starter) Ryan Webb out of the game early on, or there was a chance there for a couple of knockout blows and they never came.”

Tennessee will look to win the series tomorrow afternoon with freshman RHP Blade Tidwell (2-1, 1.80 ERA) on the mound. Georgia will have sophomore RHP Jonathan Cannon on the mound (1-0, 0.00 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET.

Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also the host of the RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.