What an uncomfortable way to lose a game.
Tennessee's hopes for a memorable run at the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament took an early jolt Wednesday afternoon when the second-seeded Volunteers were stunned 3-2 in 11 innings by 10th-seeded Alabama. The loss was Tennessee's seventh in a row at this event held annually in Hoover, Alabama, with the skid dating to 2007.
The Vols had runners at the corners with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning in a 2-2 deadlock, but umpires ruled that Tennessee's Max Ferguson interfered by sticking his hand into the private area of Alabama second baseman Peyton Wilson while sliding, thus hindering Wilson's ability to turn the double play. When Wilson's throw to first was not in time, Vols players raced out of their dugout in celebration, but Tennessee coach Tony Vitello noticed the umpire and raced over to inquire why the game wasn't over.
"He said he hit him in the (testicles)," Vitello said afterward on a Zoom call. "I saw Max Ferguson slide straight into the base, and that why I was pointing to the slide mark."
Replays showed Ferguson bringing his left hand up to cover his face but then extending it into Wilson, and the call that sent the Vols into the 10th inning dominated the postgame conversation.
"I don't think I've seen one like that when it matters so much, but there is really not much we can do," Tennessee first baseman Luc Lipcius said. "The umpire made the call, and it affected us, but we're just going to bounce back from it."
Said pitcher Will Heflin: "I'm just going to take the route of that's the call that was made, so we deal with that."
Alabama has now defeated Tennessee this year in the SEC men's basketball, softball and baseball tournaments, and that followed the 48-17 football dismantling the Crimson Tide applied to the Vols last October inside Neyland Stadium.
"We can either be frustrated by this or use it as fuel," Vitello said.
The Vols will play third-seeded Mississippi State in an elimination game Thursday at 10:30 a.m. Eastern on the SEC Network. The Bulldogs were throttled 13-1 by sixth-seeded Florida in a game that was called after seven innings.