KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It was the bottom of the ninth inning at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The baseball Vols trailed top-ranked Arkansas, 7-5. Liam Spence and Connor Pavolony stood on first and second base, respectively, with nobody out. Second baseman Max Ferguson stepped into the batter's box, swung at the first pitch and sent the ball over the right field wall for an 8-7, walk-off victory on Saturday afternoon.
However, that moment came very close to not happening. Ferguson's mind was solely on bunting as he walked out of the Tennessee dugout.
"Down two there, first and second, no outs...I lay it down [and there's a] good chance it's a hit, good chance they mess it up, throw it away. Worst comes to worst, it's second and third, one out with Jake Rucker up," said Ferguson.
Assistant coach Frank Anderson did not agree with that approach.
"I want a three-run jack here," he said to Ferguson.
He got just that.
The capacity crowd, checkered in orange and white, went into a frenzy as the homerun ball flew into the parking lot along UT Drive. Fans threw their hats and baseball gloves into the air. Middle-aged men repeatedly jumped up and down beside children doing the same thing.
On the field, Ferguson's teammates excitedly surrounded home plate, waiting for the junior to cross. Once he did, they mobbed him and chased him into the outfield.
"With that one, I just thought it had a chance to go out," said Vols head coach Tony Vitello. "In a moment like that, you might as well enjoy it."
The win evens this weekend's series a 1-1. This heightens the stakes for the series finale on Sunday. Both the Vols and Razorbacks are 18-8 in conference play, leading their respective divisions. The winner of game three takes the lead in the race towards the SEC regular season title.
First pitch is set for 1 p.m. and the game airs online with SEC Network +.