Tennessee pitcher Patrick Hicklen earned the win in Saturday's game, pitching seven and two/thirds innings while allowing just two runs on seven hits. Eric Brandon took the loss for the Tigers, pitching just four and a third innings, allowing three runs on three hits.
"We have to score more than two runs if we want to win SEC games," Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said. "We can't expect shutouts every time out...we pitched well. It was just one of those ballgames. They found and way to win it and we didn't."
Leading 2-1 in the fifth, Auburn appeared to be on the way to its 13th straight win over the Volunteers, but some uncharacteristically wild pitching by Brandon would cost the Tigers. Facing the eight and nine hitters in the Tennessee order, he did the unthinkable and hit both batters with pitches to bring the top of the order to the plate.
With freshman Arnold Hughey in for Brandon, second baseman Nick Crowe executed the sacrifice bunt to perfection with the next at-bat to put runners on second and third with just one out. Rightfielder Brandon Hopkins then grounded out to Tug Hulett at second to push across Matt Sternberg and tie the game at two.
The Vols sent Javi Herrerra to the plate as a pinch-hitter hoping to take the lead. The move appeared like it would backfire as Hughey quickly got two strikes on Herrerra. With the count 0-2, Jordan Czarniecki broke from third base in an attempt to steal home. Seeing him out of the corner of his eye, Hughey stepped off the rubber and threw to the plate and appeared to nail the runner for the third out of the inning only to have first base umpire David Brooks call a balk and award the run to Tennessee for the 3-2 lead.
The Vols would add single runs in the sixth and the eighth innings to make the final 5-2. However, the questionable balk call was without question the turning point in the game.
"He did not balk," Renfroe said of Hughey. "It was plain as day. The home plate umpire even said he didn't balk. The first base umpire said that he saw him move and I told him you have to move to step off. We know they steal. We had already called it out and we work on that step off with the opposite foot. He stepped off the mound and turned and he made a call. That's what he told me. That didn't beat us though. It wasn't a balk in my estimation. My opinion doesn't count, his does. We still would have had to score a run to win anyway so that didn't beat us. We had chances."
Auburn got on the board first thanks to Mike Mueller. With two outs in the first inning Bobby Huddleston came to the plate hoping to get something started. Working Hicklen, he earned a walk to bring Mueller to the plate. The big lefty delivered, lofting a fly ball down the left field line that Tennessee left fielder Adam Smith would dive for only to come up empty. His miss allowed Huddleston to score all the way from first and put Auburn ahead 1-0.
Javon Moran dives back to first on an attempted pick-off move from Patrick Hicklen.
The Vols would tie the score in the bottom half of the inning off Brandon with two of the three hits they got off him. With one out, Hopkins singled to right and Smith followed by grounding into a fielder's choice that retired Hopkins. Throwing a perfect pitch, Brandon coaxed Gomez into hitting a shallow fly ball in front of Gamble in center field. On a dead run, the sophomore couldn't hold on to the ball allowing Gomez to reach on the error. With a second life, the Vols capitalized as shortstop Walter Sevilla singled to left to drive home Smith and tie the score at one.
Auburn took the lead once again in the fourth thanks to just one swing of the bat. Leading off the inning, first baseman Scott Schade got the pitch he was looking for and drilled it to left field. With the wind blowing out, the ball just curved inside the 335 sign in left field as it carried over the wall for his fourth home run of the season. Leading 2-1, Auburn looked to be in good shape but the Tigers would fall victim to mistakes that would eventually cost them the game.
Scott Schade waits on the pitch at first base.
The Tigers and Vols play the rubber game of the three-game series Sunday at 1 p.m. when sophomore Colby Paxton faces Jeffrey Terrell. Paxton is 5-1 on the season with an ERA of 3.68 while Terrell is 2-3 with an earned run average of 3.78.