The Tennessee Volunteers on Friday night were hosting their first NCAA baseball regional in 16 years.
Why not make it memorable?
Drew Gilbert's grand slam to right field with one out in the ninth inning propelled the Knoxville Regional's top-seeded Vols to a 9-8 triumph over fourth-seeded Wright State before an electrified crowd of 3,951 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The blast by Gilbert marked Tennessee's seventh walkoff win of a 46-16 season that will continue Saturday night at 6 with a matchup against third-seeded Liberty (40-14).
"I would be lying if I said it wasn't a good feeling," Gilbert said afterward. "We've tried to have each other's back all year. In a big situation like that, you can let your mind race to a lot of different places.
"I tried to let my mind shut off and just react."
The Flames routed Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion Duke 11-6 in Friday's opening game. The Blue Devils (32-21) and Wright State (35-12) will play at noon Saturday in an elimination game.
Tennessee, the third overall seed in the NCAA tournament, trailed 8-5 entering the bottom of the ninth but had success against Raiders relief pitcher Tristan Haught. Connor Pavolony's single past third base and Max Ferguson's single to left-center sandwiched a hard liner by Liam Spence that was snagged in right. Needing two outs for the upset win, Wright State replaced Haught with Austin Cline, who promptly walked Jake Rucker to load the bases.
That brought Gilbert to the plate, and Gilbert quickly brought the game to an end.
"I have nothing I can really add to that," Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said. "You guys have said it all week, and I'll go ahead and say it now, too: There are three No. 2 seeds here.
"Wright State's lineup is as physical and as talented as ours, so you had an even-matched game, and fortunately what we did in the regular season got us home-field advantage."
Friday's game contained 17 combined runs, with 16 of them the result of homers. Until Gilbert's grand slam, Quincy Hamilton had the biggest blast of the night with a three-run shot in the seventh inning that silenced the crowd as Wright State took a 7-5 lead.
The Raiders extended their advantage to 8-5 in the eighth on a solo homer to right by Alex Alders.
Wright State took a 2-0 lead in the first when a deep drive to right by Tyler Black went off the glove of Jordan Beck and over the wall, but Tennessee quickly regrouped and took a 4-2 lead on homers by Luc Lipcius, Pavolony and Ferguson. Pavolony's homer was a two-run blast down the right-field line that gave the Vols a 3-2 edge in the third.
Tennessee took its largest lead of the contest later in the inning at 5-2 on a Lipcius RBI double to left.