The win moves the 13th-ranked Tigers to 20-6 overall and 3-3 in SEC play and gives them their first series win of the young SEC season.
The term multi-talented certainly described Bell on Sunday. The Tigers' third starter went five innings and gave up three runs, two earned, on only three hits and five walks to get his second win of the season. At the plate Bell was also a big contributor as the sophomore jacked his seventh and eighth home runs of the season in key situations to help lift the Tigers over the Volunteers.
"We got after it from the start and Josh Bell just battled his guts out," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said. "We just kind of went to him in the second and said, 'Can you give us one more and he said ‘alright,' I have got more.' Then we say, Can you give us one more?' We really just wanted to get to the fifth."
Bell, a sophomore, had struggled at the plate in Saturday night's game, a 7-6 loss to the Vols. However, Sunday was a very different story.
"Yeah, I was not happy that I had 100 and something pitches in five innings," Bell said about his day on the mound. "That is not what you want to do, but I am just glad I battled my way out."
The Auburn hitters certainly had their bats working on Sunday as well and attacked Tennessee starter Ben Riley early, who came into the game with a 2-0 record and a 2.12 earned run average. Auburn touched up Riley, who took the loss to move to 2-1, for five runs, four of them earned, on eight hits in four and a third innings of work. Coming into the game, the senior lefty had only given up seven runs and 21 hits in seven appearances.
Following the game, Renfroe said he was pleased by his team's performance at the plate. "You know, we just battled," he explained. "Derek Sain had great at-bats. We just came out and really got after it."
The Tigers got things started early with a run in the first inning. Following a Sean Gamble strikeout to lead off the game, Chuck Jeroloman stepped to the plate and sent a belt high fastball, that was on the outside corner of the plate, just over the left field fence to give Auburn a 1-0 lead.
However, that edge wouldn't last long as Tennessee tied the game in the bottom half of the inning. Josh Alley led off by ripping a double over Derek Sain's head that rolled to the wall in right. Then Eric King walked and Alley advanced to third on a wild pitch to put runners on the corners with no outs. Then, following a Kyle Norrid fly out that was too short to score Alley, Chris Kemp scored Alley on a ground out to short.
The Vols could have done more damage when with two outs Bell walked Chase Headly and King stole third leaving runners on the corners. But, Bell got out of the jam as he forced Nick Crowe to fly out to left to end the threat.
Then in the third inning the Tigers broke out for three runs after Ben Sprague and Ben Maitland had been punched out for the first two outs of the inning. With two down Gamble knocked a single to right for his first hit if the series. Then, Jeroloman struck again as he ripped a double to the wall in left to drive in Gamble from first, who was running on the play, for his second RBI of the day.
Tug Hulett kept the rally going for the Tigers with a little help from the Vols' defense. Hulett hit a ball through the right side of the infield that both Kemp and King looked like they thought the other was going to get and it slipped through into the outfield to score Jeroloman. Then, once the ball was in right Michael Rivera was unable to get his glove on it and that allowed Hulett to advance to third on the play.
Next, Clete Thomas placed a single through the right side to score Hulett and give the Tigers the 4-1 advantage.
Chuck Jeroloman had a big day for the Tigers
In the bottom of the inning Tennessee got two of those runs back as a pair of walks and an error cost the Tigers. After punching out King and Norrid, Bell gave free passes to Kemp and Headly to put runners on first and second. Then, a single by Crowe up the middle that was just off Hulett's glove scored Kemp and advanced Headly to third. Next Maitland couldn't handle a shot that was hit right at him from Eli Iorg and the error allowed Headly to score from third on the play to bring the Vols back to within one at 4-3.
The Tigers wasted no time grabbing one of those right back in the fourth. Bell, who was the designated hitter as well as the starting pitcher, led off and did it well. Bell got a hanging breaking ball from Riley and blasted it way out and over the second fence in left field about 450 feet. The Tigers could have scored another with Sain at third with two outs, but Riley got Gamble to fly out to right to leave the lead at 5-3.
With the Tigers threatening again in the fifth, the Vols decided to go to the bullpen. Jeroloman led the inning off with a walk. Then, Hulett tried to bunt him over to second, but got it up in the air. However, a bad bunt turned out to be a good thing as it dropped over Riley's head and with both King and Cleveland trying to field the ball there was no one to cover the bag at second and both Jeroloman and Hulett were safe on the play.
Following a Thomas fly out for the first out of the inning, Tennessee went with righty Patrick Hicklen, who gave up one run on two hits in his one and 2/3 innings of work, to face Josh Sullivan and it turned out to be a good move. Hicklen got Sullivan to ground a hot shot right at Norrid at third and he got the force on Jeroloman and threw out Sullivan at first to end the inning.
However, the Tigers did score in the sixth. After sitting down three straight on the mound in the bottom of the fifth, Bell decided to show some power again. Again in the leadoff spot in the sixth inning, Bell got a pitch he liked and drilled it high and deep over the wall in right center field for his second homer of the day to give the Tigers a three-run advantage at 6-3.
"It felt pretty good," Bell said about his third multi-home run day of the season. "I just told myself to relax today and just go out there and make good contact with the ball and I happened to do that today."
The Tigers also added an insurance run in the seventh off of freshman righty Craig Cobb, who took over for Hicklen to begin the inning. Jeroloman led off and got his third hit of the day with a double to left center. Then, Hulett sacrificed Jeroloman to third and Thomas ground out to short to score Jeroloman to give the Tigers a 7-3 lead.
Cobb went three full innings for the Vols and gave up one run on three hits and did not walk a batter in the appearance.
Freshman righty Michael Nix and junior closer Steven Register came out of the pen and shut the Vols down over the final four innings to preserve the much needed win. Nix threw two innings of no-hit baseball and handed the game off to Register in the eighth with a four-run lead. Register got three quick ground outs in the eighth, but got into some trouble in the ninth.
In the bottom of the ninth, Cleveland led off by reaching on a fielding error by Hulett. Next, Rivera and Alley each singled to load the bases with no outs. Then Register went to work. He got the first out when King popped up to first base and Sain put him away. Then, Register struck out Norrid for the second out and got Kemp to fly out to center to earn his seventh save of the season and preserve the series win for the Tigers.
Renfroe said he was excited about the strong work form the bullpen yet again. "Mike Nix was outstanding and Reggie (Register) was...he set it up and then he became dominant again."
For Tennessee, Alley led the way going 2-5 with a run scored. Crowe was 1-3 with one run batted in and Kemp had an RBI and scored a run.
For the Tigers, Bell led the way with his two homers, but Jeroloman was outstanding as well going 3-4 with three runs scored and driving in two runs. Hulett was 2-3 with a run scored and an RBI and Sain went 3-4.
On Tuesday the Tigers will face a tough midweek test as they travel to Atlanta to face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who will be fresh after having the weekend off. The Tigers are 1-0 against the Yellow Jackets this season after taking a 6-2 victory at Plainsman Park earlier in the year.