LSU ends Tennessee’s season with walk-off win in Hoover

WHAT HAPPENED: LSU junior shortstop lined a bases-loaded single down the left field line to give the Tigers a 5-4 walk-off win over Tennessee in a game the Vols had led 4-0 Tuesday night in the first round of the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.

The No. 12 seed Vols ended their season with a 29-28 record. The No. 5 seed Tigers improved to 40-17 and advance to play No. 4 seed Florida in the double-elimination phase of the tournament Wednesday night. 

Tennessee freshman pitcher Will Neely pitched six shutout innings and had a 4-0 lead when he left in the seventh. However, LSU scored three runs that inning and then tied the game on a home run by sophomore Greg Deichmann of UT reliever Hunter Martin to start the ninth.
Tennessee took a 1-0 lead in the fourth when senior Chris Hall led off with a single, stole second, then scored on a two-out single through the right side by junior Jordan Rodgers. In the fifth, they added another run when senior Tyler Schultz reached on a drag bunt, stole second and scored on a single to right by junior Max Bartlett.

The Vols made two excellent defensive plays in the LSU fifth to prevent two runs. LSU junior Cole Freeman tried a safety squeeze bunt with runners on first and third with one out, but Rodgers fielded the bunt at first and threw to home to get LSU sophomore Greg Deichmann at the plate. LSU freshman Antoine Duplantis lined a single to center field, but UT sophomore center fielder Brodie Lefttridge threw out LSU sophomore Beau Jordan at the plate to end the inning.

The Vols added two runs in the sixth. Senior Chris Hall doubled to left center to start the inning and junior Nick Senzel sent him to third with a bloop single. Hall scored on an RBI groundout by senior Vincent Jackson and Senzel scored on a wild pitch.

In the seventh, however, LSU sophomore Bryce Jordan doubled down the left field line to lead off the inning on the final pitch Neely threw. Deichman then doubled off reliever Andy Cox to make it 4-1. Junior Cole Freeman singled in a run off Cox and Robertson singled in a run off left-hander Aaron Soto to make it 4-3.

Vincent Jackson threw out a runner at home to keep LSU from tying the game that inning, but Deichmann’s homer tied the game in the ninth. Martin walked three of the next four hitters he faced before giving up Robertson’s game-winning single.

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Robertson was 2-for-5 with two RBIs including his walk-off hit. Deichmann was 2-for-3 with his home run, a double, two runs scored and two RBIs. Cole Freeman also drove in a run and Bryce Jordan hit the double that got the rally started.

LSU reliever Hunter Newman struck out three batters in two perfect innings to get the win.

Tennessee freshman Will Neely pitched six shutout innings before giving up Jordan’s double in the seventh. He struck out three batters, walked one and scattered five hits in six innings.

Hall was the only Tennessee player with two hits. He also scored two runs.

WHY DID IT HAPPEN: The Vols bullpen has been its biggest problem all season and that was the case again Tuesday. Neely was brilliant for six innings and the Vols were clearly the aggressor when he was on the mound, daring on offense and excellent on defense. However, as soon as the Vols went to the bullpen, everything fell apart. Andy Cox retired the first batter he faced but then gave up hits to two of the next three and Aaron Soto gave up an RBI single as well. Hunter Martin pitched a strong eighth inning, but once he gave up the home run to Deichmann, it appeared to be just a matter of time before LSU scored the winning run.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The Vols season ends in particularly heartbreaking fashion. They had a chance to win an SEC tournament game for the first time since 2007 and had a chance to actually take some momentum into the double-elimination round. They played excellent defense, throwing three LSU runners out at home plate, and they went all out on offense.

A win against LSU, one of the true historical powerhouses in college baseball might have also given coach Dave Serrano more ammunition in his argument to maintain his job. However, his fate is now in the hands of athletic director Dave Hart. Serrano’s contract is up, so Hart has to either extend him or let him go. The  fact that the last image of the 2016 season is a late inning collapse by the Tennessee bullpen doesn’t do much to give Serrano Hart’s support.