KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee raced out to a four-run lead in the first inning and kept the pressure on offensively all game while four Volunteer pitchers combined on a two-hitter to clinch the series sweep over Seton Hall with a 10-2 victory on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“I think this was our best game of the year and I’m very proud of them for that,” Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano said. “In my mind, I keep trying to prepare them to not get complacent and I thought we got a little complacent in Saturday’s game, especially early on. I thought from the first pitch today we were prepared and ready to play.”
Tennessee improves to 7-0 on the season, while the Pirates fall to 2-6. The seven straight wins mark the second-best start to a season in school history behind only an 8-0 start to the 2003 campaign.
“[This team has] some mental toughness,” Serrano said. “They are feeling really good about themselves. They are enjoying the success and don’t want it to go away. I am aware of reality, but why not ride this and continue to feel good about ourselves. You can’t be good unless you feel good about what you are doing and we have a group of young men that has a goal in mind to be the best team they can be. They are proving it each and every day.”
Junior Nick Blount improved to 2-0 on the season with six strong innings, allowing just two runs on two hits while inducing 13 groundball outs on the day. Freshmen Joseph Vanderplas and Conner Stevens and sophomore Dalton Saberhagen combined to throw three innings of relief to close out the contest.
“The tone was set by Nick Blount,” Serrano said. “He came out and looked like he had really good stuff early on. He was in command, and if the score had not have gotten out of reach, he was only at 66 pitches. It was a great time to get some young guys in and get him out on a good note after 66 pitches. I was very happy with the defense and he set the tone for this team.”
The UT pitching staff held the Pirates hitless the final six innings, retiring 19 of the final 20 Pirate hitters, including a stretch of 18 straight. The four hurlers combined to induce 16 groundball outs and threw first-pitch strikes to 24 of the 31 hitters that they faced.
“I’m really happy with the progress we have made on the mound,” Serrano said. “They are committing to the plan and they are committing to the philosophy. I think they are starting to see the success on committing to letting your defense help you. This game is about strike one. I am happy about the way the arms are coming together and I’m trying to get as many guys experience as I can. I want a lot of guys to grow up because we are going to need every single guy we have possible to be successful.”
At the plate, senior Zach Osborne was 3-for-3 with three runs scored and an RBI, while freshman Jared Allen drove in three runs with a double and a run-scoring groundout. Junior Chris Fritts also added three RBIs, bringing in two on a triple and another on a bases-loaded walk.
Tennessee was ultra-aggressive on the basepaths all game, swiping a season high seven bases, including two each by Osborne and junior Drew Steckenrider.
The Orange and White offense wasted little time getting going, jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first, scoring on a bases-loaded walk, RBI groundout and a two-run double by Allen. The Pirates got two of the runs back in the top of the third, but the Vols had an immediate answer.
After a leadoff double by Steckenrider in the bottom of the third, a hit batter and sac bunt put two on for Allen who collected his third RBI of the day with a groundout off the pitcher’s glove to short.
Tennessee got another leadoff hit in the fourth as Will Maddox opened the frame with a single through the left side before stealing second and moving to third on a wild pitch. Osborne then brought him home with his third hit of the day, a single to left. Three batters later, with Osborne at third, the Vols put Steckenrider in motion early at first. The Pirates were unsuccessful in their attempt to pick him off and Osborne scampered home on the play to put the Big Orange up 7-2.
UT continued to put its high-pressure offense on display in the sixth inning, scoring three more runs with the benefit of just one hit, taking advantage of a bases-loaded walk and getting a two-RBI triple by Fritts to round out the day’s line score.
Tennessee will be back in action at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28 when it hosts Middle Tennessee State. Sophomore and Murfreesboro native Carter Watson will make his first start of the season for the Volunteers while the Blue Raiders will counter with Farragut High School product Jordan Cooper.