KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee baseball team used a pair of big innings - scoring six runs in the third and three in the fifth - to race past ETSU, 9-7, on a cold and windy Tuesday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The Volunteers (3-5) had to hold off a late rally by the Buccaneers (6-2) as they put the tying run at second with just one out in the top of the ninth but freshman Trevor Bettencourt was able to get a strikeout and a pop-up to end the game and earn the first save of his career.
It wasn’t the prettiest game, but UT head coach Dave Serrano will take a win any way his team can get.
"We'll take the ugly wins too,” Serrano said. “We'll take the ugly wins over the course of a 56-game schedule, not all of them are going to be pretty. I'd feel a lot worse if it were an ugly game and we came out on the short end. Trevor Bettencourt clutched up there in the ninth. I said to the team, I thought Nick Williams getting it stopped there at 6-5 in the fourth inning was huge to keep that momentum, and it goes unnoticed but [Dalton] Saberhagen's inning in the eighth to shut them down kept the momentum on our side [was big].
“Then Bettencourt in the ninth inning, stayed within himself and made some big pitches when he had to. Probably the play of the game, and it wasn't a big play at the time, but Will Maddox's great play down third base, running into the tarp and giving up his body, hopefully that can become contagious in this program and with this team. We're going to do whatever it takes to win, sacrificing our body and that's the mentality I'd like to see more of throughout our guys."
Maddox and freshman Vincent Jackson each finished the day 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored in leading the Big Orange to the win. A trio of other first-year Vols also contributed strong offensive efforts in the victory with Jeff Moberg going 1-for-2 with an RBI and two walks, Vance Vizcaino driving in two with a triple and scoring twice more and Pierce Bily crossing the plate twice and knocking in another run with an RBI double.
On the mound, freshman Matt Esparza picked up the first win of his collegiate career with 3.1 innings of two-run ball. Nick Williams came on during the middle innings to hold ETSU at bay, allowing just one hit and striking out three in 2.2 shutout frames. Dalton Saberhagen and Bettencourt each posted scoreless stanzas to close out the contest.
The Vols got the scoring started in a big way in the home half of the third inning, scoring six runs on four hits. ETSU helped UT get the ball rolling with a pair of walks and a sac bunt putting two runners in scoring position with just one out. Moberg then laced a 2-0 pitch to left-center to plate the first run of the game.
Following the first of two intentional walks to Scott Price on the day, Parker Wormsley laid down a perfectly-executed suicide squeeze with the bases loaded to bring Maddox from third to make it 2-0.
Vizcaino then punched the very next pitch into the gap in left-center for a bases-clearing triple, bringing in two more runs. An RBI double down the third-base line by Bily and a run-scoring single through the right side by Jackson then gave the Big Orange two more runs and a 6-0 lead before the inning finally came to a close.
ETSU answered right back, however, using a two-run home run off the bat of Derek Niesman and a pair of run-scoring singles to cut the Tennessee lead down to one at 6-5.
The Vols added to their lead in the fifth, tacking on three more insurance runs on back-to-back RBI groundouts by David Houser and A.J. Simcox and a two-out double by Maddox to account for the game’s final score.
Tennessee will hit the road this weekend as it travels to Cary, N.C., to take part in the USA Baseball-Irish Classic. The Vols will square off against host Notre Dame at 6:30 p.m. on Friday night, take on UMass at 3 p.m. on Saturday and close out the competition with a noon showdown versus Virginia Tech on Sunday.
All three games will be carried live on “The Sports Animal” (FM 99.1/99.3, AM 990) with the “Voice of Tennessee Baseball” John Wilkerson and Vince Ferrara on the call.
For the most up-to-date information on Volunteer baseball, visit www.UTSports.com/Baseball, follow @Vol_Baseball on Twitter and like the Vols at Facebook.com/VolBaseball.