Tennessee blew a six run lead against Mississippi State Thursday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. But the comeback bid was all for not as Griffin Merritt hit his second walk off homer in six days to secure an 8-7 victory for Tennessee.
Here’s everything to know about the tight Thursday night contest.
Lindsey Starts Rocky, Settles In
Tennessee was on the brink of a very poor start in its series opener against Mississippi State. After allowing a leadoff single, RHP Andrew Lindsey surrendered back-to-back walks to load the bases before the Vols recorded an out.
Things looked even worse shortly after when Maui Ahuna couldn’t get the ball out of his glove and what would have been a groundout turned into a run scoring and a runner reaching base. Mississippi State was on the brink of opening up an early lead but then Lindsey found his rhythm.
Lindsey struck out back-to-back batters for a pair of critical outs before getting a pop out to end the inning and severely limit the damage.
From there, the Charlotte transfer was as strong as he’s been in the starter role. Lindsey surrendered one hit in the second, third and fourth innings and worked around it effectively before retiring the side in order in the fifth.
Mississippi State finally did some real damage off Lindsey in the fifth inning when Slate Alford sent a two-run homer to left field. Lindsey’s day ended after recording two more outs and he exited surrendering three runs in 5.2 innings pitched while Tennessee led 7-3.
Lindsey wasn’t perfect but he had another solid outing as he’s solidified himself as the Vols’ game one starter. More importantly, he left Tennessee in a good spot as he exited the series opener.
More Two-Out Offensive Success
The most radical of Tennessee baseball’s improvements over the last few weeks is how well the Vols have hit in clutch situations. Tennessee made its hay doing that in its game two and game three wins against Vanderbilt and it continued to a lesser extent in the series opener against Mississippi State.
Tennessee took an early lead when they scored four runs in the bottom of the first inning and the last of the runs came on a rocked Zane Denton single to right field.
The Vols added some important run support, all with two outs, in the fifth inning. Tennessee had a runner on first with two outs when Cal Stark doubled to left field to give the Vols runners on second and third. Christian Scott made it count by singling to left field and reached second on a fielding error.
Maui Ahuna kept it going by turning on the first pitch he saw and doubling to the right center gap.
The huge hit gave Tennessee a 7-1 lead and they would need every one of them as Mississippi State scored six straight runs to tie the game. In the Vols last four games, they have scored 31 runs with two-outs as they’ve turned a weakness to a strength in the last week.
Mississippi State’s Ferocious Comeback
Tennessee looked like it had the game comfortably in hand when it took a 7-1 lead in the fifth inning. Then thing got rocky.
The Bulldogs got two back on the previously mentioned two-run homer off of Lindsey but did most of its damage in the seventh inning. Colton Ledbetter led off the inning with a solo homer off of Kirby Connell but it looked like Tennessee would exit the inning relatively unscathed as Aaron Combs retired the next two batters.
But then Combs got a little wild walking and hitting a batter to give Mississippi State two on with two-outs. Luke Hancock made it count, driving in both runners with a double to right field. That pulled Mississippi State within one run and brought Chase Burns in to the game.
Burns looked great retiring the first four batters he faced but Mississippi State wasn’t going to let it be so easy. Hunter Hines hit a solo homer to lead off the ninth inning and tie the game for the first time since the first inning.
Griffin Merritt The Hero Again
Griffin Merritt was the hero, hitting the walk off in Tennessee’s series opening win over Vanderbilt a week ago. He did it again Thursday night.
After Mississippi State tied the game in the ninth inning, Merritt quickly ended it in the back half. The Cincinnati transfer hit a walk off homer over the batter’s eye in center field on the second pitch of the ninth inning.
The huge hit quickly erased the bad memories of the back half of the game and secured a crucial series opening victory for Tennessee.
Tennessee and Mississippi State resume their three-game series at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday night. The SEC Network+ is streaming the game.