KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – With a championship there for the taking, Auburn’s baseball team faltered and fell back Thursday at Lindsey Nelson Field.
Wes Gilmer drove in a run for Auburn.
Tennessee left-hander Steven Gruver took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, and three Tennessee relievers held on for dear life. It was enough for the Vols to win 5-2 and break an 11-game Southeastern Conference losing streak.
Auburn (28-26, 13-15) entered the game in a four-way tie for first place in the West. Where they stand going into Saturday’s game will be determined by Alabama’s game against South Carolina, LSU’s game at Mississippi State and Ole Miss’ game at Arkansas.
The Tigers will try to clinch a spot in next week’s SEC Tournament and assure themselves of a winning season in the second game of the series Saturday at 5,.
With the help of three walks, the Vols (24-28, 6-22) scored three runs in the first inning off Auburn starter Jon Luke Jacobs. Jacobs didn’t give up another run in 5 1/3 innings, but three turned out to be enough. The Vols got two more in the seventh off reliever Ethan Wallen.
“It was just rough,” Jacobs said. “I was trying to get out to a good start for us. That’s always good for our team. I was just kind of battling today. I really didn’t have a lot there. I felt like I settled in after the first inning and got things under control a little bit.”
Junior Derek Varnadore will get the start for Auburn on Saturday.
“We’ll come out and play well tomorrow,” Jacobs said. “We only scored two runs tonight. Offensively, you’re not going to hold us down for long. I feel good about tomorrow. Varney is going to come out and give us a good chance. You just have to keep your head up and keep playing.”
Tennessee, averaging just more than seven hits and two runs per game in its losing streak, got 13 hits against the Tigers. Every starter had at least one hit.
The Tigers threatened again and again. Kevin Patterson struck out with two on in the sixth and grounded out weakly with two on in the eighth.
Auburn coach John Pawlowski said the loss was frustrating, but he said he expected his team to come back hard Saturday.
“I thought our team battled back,” Pawlowski said. “We battled back from being down 3-0 in the first inning. I thought Jon Luke was trying to be a little too fine in the early part of the game, then he got us into the sixth inning.
“I thought we competed. Casey hits the ball in the gap and he runs it down. Nothing you can do.”
Nothing is guaranteed for the Tigers as they head into the final two days of the regular season. They must win the next two to be assured of finishing above .500 and qualifying for the NCAA regional play.