Tennessee (9-1) freshman Justin Ammons hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Vols a 5-4 win and series sweep over Norfolk State (3-8) on Sunday.
Jeff Moberg kicked off the thrilling finish with a lead-off single in the 11th inning. The redshirt senior advanced to second on a Jay Charleston groundout, setting up for Ammons to drive in the winning run.
After going down 1-1 in the count, Ammons knew the Spartans’ pitcher was coming back with a curveball.
“It was the best thing he had all day,” Ammons said. “He threw it outside and I put it in the left center gap.”
Moberg reached base six times on Sunday afternoon, going 4-for-4 and drawing two walks. It’s the second four-hit game of the season for the second baseman. Ammons finished 2-of-5 with a walk and two RBIs. Charleston was 3-of-6 at the dish.
Reigning SEC Freshman of the Week Ammons has now recorded a hit in every game of his college career, extending his hit streak to 10 games.
“I thought it was a great team effort. A lot of good things happened,” Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano said following the game. “A great team win and you know, sweeps are great. That’s what you set out for when you win on Friday night.”
Tennessee took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning on a sac fly from Dom Thornton, scoring Benito Santiago from third.
The Vols lead didn’t last long, as Norfolk State’s Brian Beard grounded out to shortstop, scoring Denathan Dukes from third to tie the game up at 1-1. Vol shortstop Reggie Southall made a fantastic throw from deep in the hole to get Beard out at first.
Norfolk State third baseman Justin Burrell gave the Spartans a 2-1 lead on a solo home run to left field in the top of the fifth inning.
Tennessee struck right back in the bottom of the fifth, pushing two runs across. After the Vols loaded the bases, Ammons walked on four-pitches to score Brandon Chinea, who received his first career start, from third. Andre Lipcius then grounded into a 4-6-3 double-play, allowing Moberg to score from third on the play.
Knoxville native Will Neely received the start on the mound for the Vols, pitching 5.1 innings. Neely gave up three earned runs, four hits and two walks. The sophomore struck out four.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” Serrano said. “I was happy with the way he pitched.”
Garrett Stallings relieved Neely in the sixth with runners on first and second. The freshman allowed two runs, both credited to Neely, on a single to right field. Stallings was impressive the rest of the way, pitching 3.2 innings and giving up three hits and not allowing a run.
“He’s really valuable,” Serrano said of Stallings. “His role is going to be vital for us, very vital.”
Burrell struck again in the top of the sixth, hitting a two-run single to right field to give Norfolk State a 4-3 lead. The Spartans third baseman finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs. He gave the Spartans the lead with clutch hits twice.
Southall responded in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI single to right field, scoring Dom Thornton and tying the game up at 4-4.
“When I stepped in the box, I knew it was a big at-bat because we were down,” Southall said. “I got down to two strikes and I knew I just had to battle for the Vols. Guy left a changeup up and fortunately enough I put a good swing on it.”
Neither team could push a run across in the final three innings, sending the game into extra innings tied at 4-4.
Jon Lipinski entered to pitch in the 10th inning for the Vols. With runners on first and second, Tennessee shortstop Reggie Southall turned a thrilling double play to end the inning. Southall made a diving stop behind the bag and flipped the ball to Moberg at second to start the 4-6-3 double play. Lipinski (2-0) would go on to earn the win.
“When it was hit, I told myself in my mind ‘No, I’m not letting this get through,’” Southall said of his web gem after the game. “I knew with a runner on second base, I need to lay out and do anything I can to keep the ball in the infield.”
Benito Santiago got things going in the bottom of the tenth, doubling to the right center gap before taking third base on a wild pitch. With the bases loaded, Brandon Chinea lined one back up the middle, knocking the pitchers glove off. Norfolk State pitcher Michael Parmentier picked up the ball and got Santiago out at home and end the Tennessee threat.
Tennessee’s Jordan Rodgers, a key fixture in the Vols’ lineup, did not play due to food poisoning. Chinea started in place of Rodgers, putting five true freshmen in the starting lineup for the first time all season.
The Vols now take their eight-game winning to Johnson City. Tennessee will face East Tennessee State on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Edited by David Bradford
Featured image by Amanda Izzi, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics