"It was one from the heart," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said of Friday night's victory. "These kids are fighting and clawing. It wasn't pretty all the time, but man are they fighting. (Auburn starter) Mike Felix gutted it out. He did not have his best stuff. We said ‘you've got to get us at least to the fifth' and he did. Then Madden and Cory Dueitt were just super and Reggie was dominating."
Both Sullivan and Josh Bell had two hits each for the Tigers on a night when they finished with just six hits, but were able to secure the victory. Auburn pitchers gave up just seven hits to a Tennessee team that had a batting average of .349 entering Friday night's game and had scored more than 10 runs in 12 of 25 games this season.
After getting just two hits through give innings off Tennessee starter Derek Tharpe, the Tigers fought back from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game and have a chance to win it late. That's when Sullivan stepped in. Auburn's best hitter of late, Sullivan had already done some damage on Friday night with a two-run single, but his biggest hit was yet to come.
Facing reliever Patrick Hincklin, who has 2-0 with a 2.33 ERA on the season and had yet to give up a home run in 20 innings, Sullivan took a pitch the opposite way and it carried over the wall for a solo home run, his fourth of the season. Leading 4-3 the Tigers would turn it over to Steven Register in the ninth looking for his sixth save of the season. Register delivered in dominating fashion with two strikeouts and a ground ball to close the game and end Tennessee's home winning streak at 22 games.
"Josh looked bad on two breaking balls and then he just calmed down and looked for a fastball away and drove it out of here," Renfroe said. "Sean (Gamble) hit one earlier that I think on any day is out of here, and it wasn't carrying. So what Josh did was amazing. To hit one just right of center field in this park was a phenomenal feat."
It didn't take long for the Vols to get on the board against Felix and the Tigers as an Auburn error set up Tennessee to score the game's first run. With one out in the first Eric King hit a sharp ground ball to Tug Hulett at second base, but the junior couldn't handle it to put a runner on first. Third baseman Kyle Norrid and first baseman Chris Kemp followed with singles of their own to score King and make it 1-0 Vols. Fortunately for Auburn Felix was able to get a ground ball from Chase Headley that led to a double play to end the inning.
While Tharpe was having little trouble with the Auburn batters, Felix struggled to keep the Vols off the bases early in the game. After escaping a bases-loaded jam in the second, the Tigers would fall farther behind in the third thanks to some two-out magic by the Vols. With nobody on and two outs Headley came to the plate looking for something to drive and he did just that, sending one into the right field corner for a double. That would hurt Auburn as Nick Crowe followed with a bloop single into center field that scored Headley to make it 2-0 Tennessee after three innings.
Felix continued to struggle and it would cost him in the fourth. With one out Michael Rivera walked and Josh Alley followed with a bunt single to put runners on first and second. Following a fly ball to Clete Thomas in center field to move Rivera up to third, Felix's fourth wild pitch of the night scored Rivera from third to put the Vols ahead by three.
After going down in order in the last three innings the Tigers finally got to Tharpe in the sixth. Gamble got things started for Auburn when he was hit by a pitch to bring Hulett to the plate. Mired in a 0-20 slump, Hulett pulled a ground ball into right field for a single to keep Auburn's threat going. Auburn's leading RBI man would then come through once again as Bell drilled a double down the left field line to score Gamble and put Auburn on the board.
One out later Auburn's other Josh would come up big as Sullivan battled Tharpe with two strikes three times before getting a pitch to handle and hitting it up the middle for a single. The hit scored both Hulett and Bell, tying the game and giving Auburn some life heading to the bottom of the sixth with new pitcher Madden in the game.
Madden did his job, allowing just one hit in two innings before turning the game over to Cory Dueitt in the bottom of the eighth inning. Dueitt was just as masterful in the eighth with a three-up, three-down inning. That set the stage for Sullivan's heroics in the ninth and puts Auburn in good position with a Friday night victory on the road in the SEC.
Auburn will send junior left-hander Arnold Hughey to the mound on Saturday looking for the series win against the Vols. He will face off against freshman Sean Watson from Tennessee. The first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. and can be seen live on Comcast Sports Southeast.