NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) - Tennessee fought off two comeback attempts by No. 3 Vanderbilt before a seventh-inning grand slam by Kyle Smith finally gave the Commodores the lead and propelled them to a 12-8 victory in the series finale on Easter Sunday at Hawkins Field.
“When you are 0-3 [after three close games], you can walk away saying you are close but close doesn’t count in my book,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “What we are close to doing is if we can shore up some things that we continue to break down on, we wouldn’t make it so difficult on ourselves. You can’t give so many free bases to other teams and so many opportunities for extra outs in innings. They made us pay for it and that is what good teams do.
“That is where we are hoping to head too, so that one day we can take advantage of opportunities like that. We have to find ways to win as a team. We have to find ways to get things done and get things stopped when they go sideways. When things go sideways, they seem to go really sideways with us and we have to get that changed. I don’t walk away saying I feel good that we are close in games because that doesn’t matter. The bottom line is what the final score was all three games.”
Scott Price led a 16-hit offensive effort by the Orange and White, going a perfect 4-for-4 with three RBIs and a walk. Will Maddox, Vincent Jackson and A.J. Simcox all had three hits for the Vols as well, with Simcox driving in a pair of runs and scoring two more.
UT's record returns to .500 for the year at 13-13, including a 3-6 mark in SEC play while the third-ranked Commodores improve to 25-4 overall and 8-1 in league play.
Tennessee tagged Vanderbilt starter Philip Pfeifer for two runs early in the contest before a rain delay forced the game to be suspended for 15 minutes.
The Vols used four singles and a sac bunt to jump out to the quick lead with Simcox driving in the first two runs of the game with a Baltimore Chop off the turf and over the third baseman's head into left for a two-RBI single. Maddox then punched a base hit into right and promptly stole second to put two runners in scoring position before the game was halted.
Although a second out was quickly added to the scoreboard when play resumed, Price laced a line-drive single to left to plate two more runs and make it a 4-0 Tennessee advantage.
The lead was short-lived for the Big Orange, however, as Vanderbilt put up a four-spot of its own in the bottom of the third to tie the game back up at 4-4.
Tennessee battled its way back in front with two runs in the fourth thanks to a VU error and Price's third hit of the day, a two-out RBI single right back up the middle.
UT handed one of those runs right back in the home half of the inning though with a walk, error and a wild pitch.
The Commodores would then use another walk and a hit batter to load the bases with just one out but Andy Cox was able to buckle down and strike out the three- and four-hole hitters for VU to escape without any further damage.
Tennessee gift-wrapped another run for VU in the fifth with an error, a passed ball, a sac bunt and a wild pitch bringing the game back to a deadlock at 6-6.
The Vol offense refused to let the miscues faze their efforts though, and put Tennessee back out in front for the third time with a sacrifice fly by Pierce Bily in the sixth and a run-scoring single by David Houser in the seventh.
That would be the last time they would lead, however, as Smith launched a grand slam to left in the seventh to give Vanderbilt the advantage for the first time all day. The Commodores then tacked on two more insurance runs in the eighth to account for the game's final score.
The Big Orange made things interesting in the top of the ninth, using a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases and bring the tying run to the plate with two outs, but a pop up to short ended the game and the series.
Tennessee will open a four-game homestand at 3 p.m. on Tuesday when it hosts Longwood back at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville.