Vols win first game in series against Mississippi State

WHAT HAPPENED: Tennessee defeated Mississippi State 5-2  on Thursday night in front of 1,635 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium to cling to its hopes of an SEC tournament berth.

The Vols improve to 22-25, 9-18 in the SEC and vault over the Bulldogs (24-28, 8-20) for 13th-place in the SEC. The Vols are still a game behind Georgia (26-26, 10-17) for the 12th and final SEC tournament spot because the Bulldogs defeated Arkansas (they are winning 10-1 at the time of this posting) on Thursday night. Georgia has the tiebreaker against Tennessee, having swept the Vols in March.

Tennessee still has a chance to also catch Alabama, which trails Vanderbilt at the time of this posting 2-1. The Vols would have to sweep Mississippi State and have Vanderbilt sweep Alabama to get in that way.

Mississippi State scored first on Thursday night. Catcher Gavin Collins walked to start the first, went to third on a double by designated hitter Lucas Reynolds and scored on an RBI groundout by first baseman Wes Rea. However, Tennessee left-hander Andy Cox struck out the next better and got a groundout to end the inning without any more damage. 

Tennessee got on the board in the second when junior designated hitter Andrew Lee hit a hanging curveball from MSU’s Lucas Laster over the scoreboard in right field. In the third, sophomore Nick Senzel crushed a 1-1 slider that broke to his ankles over the left field wall to make it 2-1.

In the fourth, junior shortstop A.J. Simcox led off the inning with a drag bunt single, took second on a sacrifice fly by Andrew Lee. Sophomore right fielder Jordan Rodgers singled up the middle to score Simcox. Center fielder Chris Hall hit a bouncer to first but reached on a throwing error. After a Benito Santiago strikeout, senior first baseman Parker Wormsley fought back from an 0-2 count to draw a walk to load the bases. Senzel then singled through the right side to bring in Rodgers and Hall to make it 5-1.

Mississippi State’s Jake Vickerson doubled to leadoff the eighth and eventually scored on a passed ball, but Lee pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Tennessee junior left-hander Andy Cox didn’t have his best stuff on Thursday night and had some control issues. He walked six batters and hit one, throwing just 60 of his 112 pitches for strikes. However, he pitched out of jams and rarely allowed Mississippi State to make good contact. The Bulldogs had just three hits, stranded the bases loaded in the third and had runners thrown out at home in the second and fourth.

Cox finished with six strikeout, and he allowed just two baserunners from the fifth through the seventh.

Senzel was 2-for-4 with three RBI, and his home run was his third in the last four games. he had just one home run in the first 42 games. He was responsible for throwing a runner out at home in the second.

Lee homered and pitched a perfect ninth. Rodgers was 2-for-4 with an RBi and a run scored and recorded an outfield assist in the fourth.

WHY DID IT HAPPEN: Parker Wormsley had arguably the most important at-bat of the game. The Vols were up 3-1 in the fourth when he came to the plate with runners on first and third, but they desperately wanted to put a gap in the lead. Wormsley fell behind 0-2 but kept battling and drew a walk. Senzel, who has been on fire lately, found a hole in the right side of an infield that appeared to be shading him to the left and doubled the run on one swing.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: For now, the Vols live to fight another day. Of course, they now have zero margin for error thanks to Georgia’s win, and they need to root very hard for both Arkansas and Vanderbilt. But at the very least, the Vols took step one to trying to continue their season past Saturday.