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Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee players celebrate during Friday night's 15-run outburst in the seventh and eighth innings that turned a 4-2 deficit into a 17-4 win over Auburn.

The Auburn Tigers and Tennessee Volunteers collided this weekend in a Southeastern Conference baseball series for the first time since 2019.

They sure made up for lost time.

A Friday night opener in which the top-ranked Vols trailed at the seventh-inning stretch before erupting for 15 runs. A Saturday showdown in which two tossings of a bat led to heated emotions that accompanied a dramatic comeback by the Tigers, and a Sunday rubber match that was tied in the eighth inning.

The most competitive series of Tennessee's season was not decided until Jordan Beck's eighth-inning home run to left field that plated two runs and propelled the Vols to a 5-3 triumph inside Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

"You've got to have every type of win that you can get," Beck said Sunday after Tennessee improved to 40-4 overall and 19-2 in Southeastern Conference play. "It just adds to the Rolodex. It's good for us to be behind, and it's good for us honestly to lose just to have that feeling again.

"Sometimes your biggest lessons are from losses, so it was all good this weekend, and I think it will help us out a lot."

Not to be outdone in this series that had twists and turns throughout was Tennessee relief pitcher Ben Joyce, who threw 28 fastballs Sunday that were clocked at a minimum of 103 mph and had three reaching 105 with a high of 105.5. His pitch of 105.5 is the fastest in college baseball history.

"That was crazy to think about afterwards," Joyce said. "I was just trying not to think about it during the game, but it's pretty crazy to think about for sure."

Tennessee entered this series having been historically abysmal against the Tigers, which was reflected by a 39-96 record that included a 21-40 mark in Knoxville. The Vols were swept in Auburn during their 2019 encounter but managed to achieve their first series triumph in this pairing since 2011.

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Auburn photo by Jason Caldwell / After deciding Saturday night's game with a three-run home run with two out in the ninth inning, Auburn's Bobby Peirce had a solo homer and an RBI single Sunday afternoon in the series finale at top-ranked Tennessee. Peirce pulled the 19th-ranked Tigers into a 3-3 tie, but Jordan Beck's two-run homer in the eighth was the difference in a 5-3 triumph by the Vols.

The 19th-ranked Tigers are now 31-14 overall and 12-9 within the SEC, residing two games back of Arkansas in the Western Division race. There is no race in the East, with Tennessee leading Georgia by seven games.

"I knew it was coming," Vols coach Tony Vitello said of the competitive series. "It would be pretty interesting to see both teams at a neutral site and healthy just what kind of series you would have — not that this one wasn't phenomenal.

"It's pretty good for our guys to know they're not invincible. It's a confident group that likes to compete, but everyone needs to be reminded that you can be humbled in this game really quick."

In Friday's opener, Auburn starting pitcher Hayden Mullins left in the second inning with arm soreness, but Tigers relievers kept Tennessee's bats quiet. Auburn took a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh but was promptly overcome by Tennessee's offensive assault that produced 15 runs in 20 at-bats.

Jorel Ortega and Evan Russell combined for four home runs and 11 RBIs in the stunning 17-4 victory.

"The cap came off, and it came off in extreme fashion," Vitello said Friday night. "The odds of replicating that aren't great."

Tennessee led 5-4 Saturday night entering the ninth inning and had Auburn down to its last out before Kason Howell ripped an RBI double into the left-field corner off Vols reliever Redmond Walsh. The Tigers forged ahead on Bobby Peirce's three-run homer to left at Walsh's expense, with Peirce producing a bat flip that resulted in the bat heading in the direction of Tennessee's dugout.

As Peirce was rounding the bases and Tigers players had come out of their dugout to greet him, Vitello took the bat and sailed it toward the celebration.

"If it was a true dugout, it would have gone in our dugout, but instead it was resting on the net," Vitello said. "Someone's got to get it, so I grabbed it and threw it over there, and a lot of extra stuff happened after that."

The Vols are scheduled to host Alabama A&M on Tuesday before traveling to Kentucky for a rare Thursday-through-Saturday series.

"Today was kind of the first day when you showed up to the park and it had the feel of an elimination-type game in a regional or super regional with your season on the line," Vitello said. "It was phenomenal for our guys to experience that."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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