HOOVER, Ala. — Thanks to good defensive positioning, alertness and perhaps a little bit of luck, Vanderbilt survived a ninth-inning scare and held on for a 3-2 victory over Tennessee in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament Tuesday.
Vanderbilt (41-16) advances to face No. 3 seed LSU at 10:30 EDT this morning in the double-elimination portion of the tournament. Arkansas beat Texas A&M 4-0 in the second game of the tournament and faces Mississippi after the Vandy/LSU contest.
Clinging to a one-run lead, the Commodores called on Carson Fulmer to get the final three outs in the first of 17 games to be played at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium this week.
But the hard-throwing righty, who was the starting pitcher in Friday's win over South Carolina, quickly found himself in trouble after allowing a leadoff double to Volunteers second baseman Nick Senzel.
Senzel advanced to third on a balk, placing the tying run 90 feet from the plate with no outs.
That's when Commodores third baseman Xavier Turner made a play that would change the complexion of the game. With the infield drawn in to try and cut down Senzel at home, Turner snagged Taylor Smart's well-struck grounder and alertly spun to make place a tag on the runner, who was unable to retreat to third base before being called out.
"Our coaches put me in good position," Turner said. "I knew that I was up in front of the base. The runner was right next to me, so I knew I had a chance to tag him. I was just in the right place at the right time."
Given a new lease on life, Fulmer quickly ended the contest by picking Smart off first base and striking out Vincent Jackson.
"Today was a microcosm of what our season was all about," Tennessee coach Dave Serrano said. "It's a group of guys that have fought extremely hard, but we've just done some things to get in our own way. The ninth inning was an example of what we've had to live with all year long."
Tennessee (31-23), which was making its first SEC tournament appearance since 2007, will now await its fate in next week's NCAA tournament selection process.
Vanderbilt starter Walker Buehler (10-2) worked his way through a two-run, four-hit second inning to earn the victory in eight innings on the mound. The sophomore allowed just three baserunners in the final six innings of his 108-pitch day.
All three of Vanderbilt's runs came in the first two innings. In a two-run first, Vince Conde flared a 0-2 pitch into right field to score Turner, then forced an errant throw from Vols catcher Tyler Schultz with a steal attempt that allowed Bryan Reynolds to score from third.
Commodores designated hitter Ro Coleman drove in what turned out to be the winning run on a routine ground ball to Senzel that turned into an infield single after the second baseman had trouble deciding to which base he would throw.