ASU baseball had played improved defense all season until the seventh inning Saturday night.
The Sun Devils (7-5) committed three errors with two outs in the three-run seventh for Tennessee, falling 6-5 to end their five-game winning streak.
"We've been making those plays and sometimes it just catches up to you a little bit," Esmay said.
The Sun Devils and sophomore starter Ryan Kellogg were leading 3-2 entering the seventh but Kellogg ran into trouble with two outs.
An opposite-field single by freshman first baseman Nathaniel Maggio then a double down the left-line by senior third baseman Taylor Smart tied the game for the Volunteers (13-1), then the madness started.
Sun Devils redshirt junior second baseman Tucker Esmay booted a ground ball off the bat of the next Volunteer batter, scoring Smart and giving Tennessee a 4-3 lead.
Sophomore shortstop Jordan Aboites' committed just his second error of the season on the next batter, pulling sophomore first baseman David Graybill off the bag with a throw.
Esmay committed his second error on the following batter, overthrowing Graybill and allowing the Volunteers to score the third run of the inning.
Coach Esmay said the rough seventh inning derailed an otherwise good start from Kellogg, who struck out five in his seven innings.
"It's unfortunate because I thought Kellogg threw really well tonight," Esmay said.
The Sun Devils grabbed an early lead for Kellogg with an RBI single from Graybill in the second inning, but were derailed by clutch defense from the Volunteers, who threw out two runners at home plate.
Redshirt junior outfielder Trever Allen was thrown out to end the fourth inning following another single from Graybill and Graybill was gunned down by Smart in the sixth inning attempting to advance after a bad throw from the outfield.
Esmay said the two lost runs were as costly to the loss as the errors.
"Those are runs," Esmay said. "It's hard to get a chance to score runs. We call those game-changers and we work on those all the time."
The Sun Devils added run in the eighth inning and put the tying run in scoring position in the ninth, but Volunteers sophomore closer Drake Owenby got junior designated hitter Nate Causey to fly out to left.
The Sun Devils and Volunteers play the final game of the series tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.