"You couldn't have scripted the ninth inning any better for us."
Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano wasn't wrong.
Following an eighth inning that saw the Volunteers crawl to within one of the Auburn Tigers, UT started to paint the scene of a late-inning rally.
Junior catcher Tyler Schultz, who pinch hit for David Houser in the seventh, led the ninth off with a leadoff single and was put into scoring position one batter later when senior third baseman Taylor Smart laid down a sacrifice bunt.
Two walks by the Tigers' closer, Terrance Dedrick, followed and all of sudden the Vols found themselves with the bases loaded and only one out.
From there, however, Tennessee's comeback hopes went south.
After a weak ground ball from junior second baseman Will Maddox allowed Auburn to throw Schultz out at home, the Vols' last hope rested in the hands of their leader in RBIs, Nick Senzel. All the freshman could muster was an easy fly out to right field, though, dashing Tennessee's late-inning rally as they fell to the Tigers, 3-2, inside Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Friday.
"We had the right guys on base," Serrano said, "we had the right guys coming up, we just didn't get the at-bats we needed to come out on top."
Getting those at-bats, though, wasn't just a problem in the final stanza.
Tennessee struggled to get timely hits throughout the night, as they didn't manage to score their first run until the eighth inning and stranded 11 men on base, which wasn't necessarily all on the Vols.
The Tigers' Dillion Ortman (5-1, 1.96 ERA) pitched a gem, allowing only six hits in seven innings while striking out seven, and most importantly, not allowing UT to figure him out.
"For our 21st game, it was probably the most disappointing we've been offensively," Serrano said. "Let's give some credit where credit is due. That was an education on pitching by their guy tonight. It wasn't like his stuff was overpowering, but the numbers don't lie, he just pitched. Everything was down in the zone and he had our guys guessing and our guys didn't do a good job adjusting to it.
"We scratched and clawed late, but it was just a little too late."
Auburn jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning off of senior starting pitcher Nick Williams (3-2, 1.88).
After recording outs on the Tigers' first two batters of the day, Williams walked Damek Tomscha on a 3-2 count and kept the inning alive.
The Tigers capitalized two batters later as Blake Austin hit a double into the right center gap, bringing home Tomscha and Ryan Tella, who had singled in the at-bat before.
"I just didn't execute the pitches when I needed to in the first inning," Williams said. "... That's disappointing, but from there on out, I kind of settled in and tried to help the team win."
Following the first inning, Williams rebounded, only allowing one run in his last seven innings pitched.
Even with the Tennessee bats not performing at their best, Williams said he felt no pressure to be the man to keep the Vols in the game.
"(There's) not any pressure because I know we have a great offense and they are going to get their swings and they are going to find holes," Williams said. "I just gotta go out there and throw strikes and execute when I need too."
Coming off of an extra-inning thriller on Tuesday against Austin Peay, the Vols have now seen two consecutive tight games, something Serrano believes can be fixed if the Vols are able to iron out some of the little kinks in their game.
"Everything is magnified on a Friday night – everything is magnified in the SEC. Every game is important," Serrano said. "I've seen this coming, this coaching staff has seen this coming. We continue to try and prepare our guys – and we're very prod of what they've accomplished –, but little things have started to sneak in that have made even victories tougher for us.
"We've got to get that out of our personality right now because we are making it a lot tougher on ourselves than it should be."
The Vols will look to even the series up on Saturday at 4 p.m. EST in a battle of freshman hurlers.
Tennessee will send Hunter Martin (2-0, 0.73) to the mound, while Keegan Thompson (4-0, 0.69) will toe the rubber for Auburn.
"I'm excited about tomorrow," Serrano said. "I'm excited for Hunter to go out. Obviously, he has established himself and I'm excited to see what Keegan Thompson is about because his numbers are really special. Those are two guys who have come right out of high school and established themselves as two guys in the SEC and I think tomorrow will be a great matchup.
"We've put our backs against the wall again... We're down one. Our goal is always to sweep. The sweep was taken away from us, and now are next goal is to take the series and we've got a lot of fighting and clawing to do to get that done."