Redemptive bunt helps Vols avoid sweep against Vanderbilt

Redemptive bunt helps Vols avoid sweep against Vanderbilt

May 13th, 2018 by David Cobb in Sports - College

Infielder Pete Derkay (10) of the Tennessee Volunteers is shown during the game between the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. (Photo: John Golliher/Tennessee Athletics)

Photo by John Golliher/Tennessee Athletics

This story was updated May 13, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. with more information.

KNOXVILLE — Just as it did on Friday, a critical bunting situation arose for the Tennessee baseball team Sunday with the third hitter in the order, Pete Derkay, strolling to the plate.

This time, though, there were reservations in the dugout about whether to call a bunt.

The typically reliable Derkay had struck out while trying to bunt with two runners on base in a pivotal moment of the Volunteers' 7-6 series-opening loss to Vanderbilt two days before. A lack of late-game offensive execution also plagued them in a 7-2 loss Saturday.

On Sunday, with Tennessee attempting to avoid a momentum-draining sweep at home against an in-state rival, Derkay came through.

A sophomore first baseman who hits left-handed, Derkay dropped a bunt down the third-base line for a fielder's choice that loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth inning. The next hitter, Andre Lipcius, ripped a two-RBI single to right center field that put Tennessee ahead for good.

The Vols (28-25, 11-16 Southeastern Conference) held on, squeaking out an 8-7 victory in their final game at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in 2018.

"Going into it, I was like, 'Bring it on,'" Derkay said, "because I knew had my second chance and I wasn't going to miss that opportunity again for my team."

Tennessee coach Tony Vitello credited pitching coach Frank Anderson with making the call to have Derkay bunt. Without the successful bunt, the Commodores' ninth-inning rally would likely have tied the game instead of coming up one run short.

"Yeah, there's doubts," Vitello said. "No doubt about it. He (Derkay) didn't look like he wanted to do it the other night. But the guy has got skill, and he can do it if he wants to. So we put it on, he got it down, and then we kind of had some fun with it."

As Vanderbilt (27-24, 13-14) made a pitching change after Derkay's at-bat, Derkay walked from first base to the dugout, where he was mobbed by teammates — led by their head coach — who offered Derkay a comically excessive amount of congratulations for his redemptive moment in the form of hugs, high-fives and pats on his helmet.

"I was in the back," said pitcher Garrett Stallings, who earned the win in 4 2/3 innings of relief. "I kind of joined it late. But Coach V was definitely going crazy. He gave him that second chance, and he got it done. It was big for him and for us to be safe and have the bases loaded. That was big for us."

Sunday's outcome had little bearing on what Tennessee will need to accomplish in this week's final regular-season series in order to qualify for the SEC tournament. The Vols play three games at Missouri starting Thursday. It appears likely the series winner will earn the 12th and final slot in the conference tournament, which is May 22-27 in Hoover, Ala.

Still, avoiding being swept by an in-state foe felt critical to sustaining the momentum the Vols have created in Vitello's first year as coach. Tennessee jumped to a 4-0 lead through three innings before the Commodores scored six runs in the fourth.

"We got hit hard and knocked to the mat," Vitello said, "and I wasn't sure if we were going to get up, because this was a hard weekend."

Senior center fielder Brodie Leftridge restored some momentum to Tennessee with a solo home run in the fifth before the three-run sixth inning that included Derkay's bunt.

"We work on bunting every single day, so it's just something that is part of our routine," Derkay said. "I just lost a little focus on Friday, but I made sure I was completely focused to get the job done at that point (Sunday)."

After it was over, his teammates expressed their appreciation for a job well done.

"I think he was just enjoying it," Stallings said. "We're kind of becoming more of a family every day. Our team is becoming closer and closer, and it's a great feeling to come out to the ballpark, especially when you have a big win like this."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.