KNOXVILLE, Tennessee -- The No. 3 Texas A&M Aggies fought off the feisty Tennessee Volunteers to post a 6-5 win Friday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
After Texas A&M (39-7, 14-7 SEC) jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first, the Volunteers battled back to tie the game in the fifth, seventh and eighth innings before the Aggies finally notched the decisive run in the top of the ninth.
Tied 5-5, Blake Allemand started the inning by scooting a hit past the rightfielder for a leadoff double. Nick Banks put down a sacrifice bunt to push Allemand to third. With the infield drawn in, Mitchell Nau punched a ball through the right side of the infield to knock in Allemand with the go-ahead run.
Mark Ecker, who was allowed a game-tying double in the eighth, set the bottom third of the lineup down in order to close out the game.
Nau led the Aggies at the plate, going 3-for-3 with one double, two runs and two RBI. Allemand and Logan Taylor each added two hits.
The Aggies pounced on the Volunteers for three runs in the top of the first inning. Allemand started the game by singling off the glove of a leaping Tennessee third baseman. After Banks worked an 11-pitch walk, Nau blasted a gapper to left-center, plating Allemand for the ice breaker. Logan Taylor bounced a single up the middle to knock in Banks and Hunter Melton staked Texas A&M to a 3-0 lead.
Tennessee (18-22, 7-15 SEC) offered an immediate response in the home half of the first. The Volunteers started the frame with the consecutive hits. Nick Senzel sparked the rally with a leadoff single to right-center and scored on Jared Pruett single double to the gap in right-center. Christin Stewart hit a ball back to the bump that ricocheted off the mound and skied 15 feet into the air before Allemand could corral it behind second base, giving Tennessee runners at the corners. AJ Simcox pushed Pruett across with a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 3-2.
The Volunteers got an equalizer in the fifth. Andrew Lee reached on an error by Aggie second baseman Patrick McLendon to start the frame. Lee moved to second on a groundout to third by Simcox and scored when Jared Rogers bounced a single up the middle, tying the game at 3-3.
Texas A&M reclaimed the lead in the sixth. With one out, Nau singled to rightfield and moved to second when Taylor threaded a single through the right side of the infield. After Melton flied out to centerfield, JB Moss drove a single through the left side to give A&M a 4-3 advantage.
The Volunteers knotted the game again in the seventh inning. Lee opened the bottom of the frame by sending a 2-2 offering from Aggie reliever Andrew Vinson to the scoreboard in rightfield for the solo dinger, tying the game at 4-4.
The Aggies immediately untied the game in the next half inning. In the top of the eighth, Melton drove a leadoff double to the wall in rightfield. Nick Choruby replaced Melton at second as a pinch-runner and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Moss. Logan Nottebrok was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners and Michael Barash swung and missed at strike three for the second out of the inning. Ryne Birk came to the plate as a pinch-hitter and roped a single into centerfield, knocking in Choruby for the 5-4 lead.
Tennessee wouldn't go quietly into the night, tying the game for a third time in the bottom of the eighth. Pruett drove a leadoff double down the rightfield line and moved to third on a grounder to first base. The Aggies went to the bullpen bringing in closer Ecker. He kept the tying run at third getting Lee to ground out to first base, but Simcox was able to drive a 2-2 offering into the gap in left-center for a game-tying double. Ecker got Rogers to pop up for the third out, setting up the Aggies' ninth-inning heroics.
Neither starting pitcher factored in the decision. Grayson Long tip-toed through 5.1 innings for Texas A&M, allowing three runs, two earned, on nine hits and one walk while striking out six. Cox worked 6.2 innings for the Volunteers, allowing four runs one eight hits and five walks while striking out three.
The respective closers were credited with the decisions. Ecker (1-1) earned the win, allowing one hit while striking out two in 1.2 innings. Lee (2-1) was saddled with the loss with one run on three hits while striking out two in 2.0 innings.
Tennessee won the war on the base paths with four stolen bases. Texas A&M had four runners retired running the bases, including three runners caught stealing.
Pruett paced the Vols' offense going 3-for-5 with two doubles, two runs and one RBI. Senzel, Stewart and Rodgers each added two hits.
The teams return to action Saturday with a 6:03 pm CT first pitch. The game will air on the SEC Network.
TEXAS A&M QUOTES
Head coach Rob Childress
On the game... "That was a battle. Every Friday night SEC game on the road is a battle. The ninth inning run was all about leaders not wanting to lose. We had two seniors (Blake Allemand and Mitchell Nau) get big hits and we had an All-American (Nick Banks) put down a great sacrifice bunt. That's how you win games."
Senior designated hitter Mitchell Nau
On his ninth inning hit... "My teammates put me in the position to get the key hit. That was a great leadoff at bat by Blake (Allemand) to get that double. And Nick (Banks) is a great hitter, but he made a sacrifice for the team. Putting Blake at third opened up the infield for my hit because they had to bring the infield in. I just wanted to shorten my swing and punch something through the infield."