Six Tennessee pitchers combined to allow two runs, strike out 12 and walked none while retiring the last 17 batters as No. 29 Tennessee pushed past Western Carolina 6-2 on Wednesday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The win is Tennessee's third in a row against the Catamounts (24-12) and improves the Vols to 24-11 overall this season.
Bret Marks and Drake Owenby gave up eight hits over the first four innings and then handed the ball off to Trevor Bettencourt, Peter Lenstrohm, Josh Peterson and Andrew Lee, who took over from there.
Owenby got the final two outs of the fourth inning, and the quartet of relievers went on to retire the next 15 batters, including six via strikeouts. Tennessee did not allow a free pass for the third time this season. Marks, who started the game, earned his third win of the campaign.
"For me - for what I look for - that's better than a shutout for me," said head coach Dave Serrano on not allowing a walk. "That's what we strive to do each and every game and I think that was the difference in the game. We gave up some hits, but that's a good hitting team. The difference was that they had a lot of free passes and we didn't have a lot of free passes and I think that was the difference on the scoreboard."
Offensively, sophomore Christin Stewart went 4-for-4 with a double and freshman Nick Senzel was 2-for-2 with three walks and two runs scored as eight of the Vols' nine starters registered a hit.
UT out-hit WCU by a 13-8 margin and recorded four extra-base hits on the night (three doubles, one triple).
Using a leadoff double, a wild pitch and a sac fly, Western Carolina took the early 1-0 in the first inning. Bradley Strong ripped a 1-0 pitch from Marks into the right-center gap, and then moved over to third on a wild pitch. Strong came home on a sac fly by three-hole hitter Adam Martin to give WCU the 1-0 advantage.
The Catamounts' lead was short-lived as Tennessee tacked on two runs in the bottom half of the first with a two-out rally. Stewart and Senzel started the rally with back to back singles into right field. The pair moved into scoring position when WCU center fielder Cody Jones bobbled Senzel's single. Scott Price then won an eight-pitch battle by driving a two-RBI double into the left-center gap. The RBIs were Price's 26th and 27th of the season, which ties him for the team lead.
Youngblood led off the second inning for UT with a loop double into left field. The speedster sprinted out of the box and slid safely head first into the bag. However, the Vols couldn't bring the run in, leaving the bases loaded for the second straight inning. Youngblood, who made his fifth career start, finished the game 2-for-3.
Tennessee extended its lead to 4-1 in the bottom half of the third off two hits, a WCU error and a wild pitch. Sophomore Derek Lance picked up the lone hit and scored the lone run in the inning, as junior Will Maddox drove in the Knoxville native with a groundout.
A leadoff triple by Matt Smith led to the Catamounts' second and final run as he came home on a perfectly-placed squeeze bunt by teammate J.D. Long. Long's bunt single would end up being Western Carolina's final hit of the night as the Vol hurlers took control.
The Orange and White struck again on the offensive side in the fourth inning, plating two more runs on two hits. Stewart picked up his third hit in as many at-bats to start it off, doubling down the right field line, but was thrown out trying to stretch the plat into a triple. The Lawrenceville, Ga., native is currently tied for the SEC lead with four triples.
However, senior Taylor Smart did get the triple for UT as he roped a two-out pitch past a diving Luke Gragg in left center field. Senzel, who reached on a free pass, came home on the play and Smart later scored on a wild pitch to extend the lead to the final mark of 6-2. Smart's three-bagger extended UT's SEC lead in the category to 13 this season. The Vols hit 12 triples all of last season.
Tennessee had one hit in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings, but could not get any runs across. UT left 13 on base on Wednesday, but hit .500 (6-for-12) and drove in three runs with two outs.
The Orange and White will host first-place and eighth-ranked Alabama this weekend at Lindsey Nelson Stadium from April 18-20. The Crimson Tide stand 25-11 overall and sit atop the SEC with a 10-5 league mark. First pitch from UT's Friday night starter Nick Williams will come at 6 p.m. ET.
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