With all the chips on the table, Will Maddox rolled the dice Friday night. The dice have not been kind to Tennessee’s baseball team this year.
Maddox was caught trying to steal home with the bases loaded, snuffing a dramatic ninth-inning rally that let Georgia escape with an 8-7 win at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“I could tell by Will’s body language something was about to happen,’’ said UT coach Dave Serrano shortly after the Vols set a program record with their 11th one-run loss of the season.
“I can’t fault Will. It was an aggressive play and it backfired.’’
Serrano not only didn’t fault Maddox, he wishes more of his players would risk an aggressive play. The Vols had showed little moxie as Georgia built an 8-3 lead.
“That’s the mentality I’d like us to do earlier in the game,’’ Serrano said. “We categorize it as a big game from the players’ standpoint and then we wait until the ninth inning to scrap and claw and get back in this game. They should have that the mentality early on.’’
Serrano approached it as a big game — moving ace Zack Godley from Sunday to Friday night — and the SEC standings verify the game’s importance.
Twelve teams go to the SEC tournament. Tennessee began the night in 13th place, Georgia 14th.
Still outside looking in, the Vols (18-26, 6-16 SEC) and Bulldogs (17-28, 5-16) meet Saturday (TV:CSS, 7 p.m.) and Sunday (TV: ESPNU, 1 p.m.).
Weather permitting, that is. The forecast isn’t promising.
Missouri and Auburn also lost Friday and, at 7-15, remain one game ahead of the Vols.
Godley (4-6) didn’t have his best stuff and Georgia battered him for 14 hits in six innings, the most he the senior has ever allowed.
Three of those hits went to Curt Powell, the third baseman from Farragut High School.
The Vols got a two-run double from Christin Stewart in the second and an RBI single by Scott Price in the fifth. Both Stewart and Price, however, were gunned down at second base, overrunning and trying to stretch, respectively.
By the middle of the ninth-inning rally, a lot of prior miscues suddenly started growing in stature.
Trailing 8-3, Taylor Smart led off the ninth with a walk. One base at a time, the Vols battled back. Three singles and two more walks made it 8-6, two on and no one out.
Georgia reliever Jarrett Brown eventually got Price on a shallow fly ball and David Houser on a pop up. Then he walked Vincent Jackson to force in another run. At 8-7, Smart returned to the plate.
Maddox, who had successfully stolen home Tuesday in a loss against Middle Tennessee State, danced off third base as Smart worked a 2-2 count.
Then Maddox went.
“It was on me,’’ he said. “It was my final call.
“I left a hair early, enough for him to step off (the pitching rubber).’’
Brown still fired the ball home. The umpire called strike three, apparently not seeing that Brown had stepped off the rubber.
“(Brown) did it exactly how you’d want to coach it,’’ Serrano said. “He didn’t panic. He did it perfect.’’
And Maddox, too late to stop, knew it. He hit the brakes and tried to get back to third but was tagged by Powell to end the game.
“Once he stepped off I just tried to shut it down and hope for a bad pitch or a bad throw or something,’’ Maddox said.
“It was just unfortunate but it happens.’’