KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) – Trailing by five runs entering the bottom of the ninth, Tennessee scored twice and brought the tying run to the plate, but the Volunteer rally fell just short as Vanderbilt escaped the jam to claim a 7-4 victory which sets up a rubber match in the series finale on Sunday.
Down 7-2 with just three outs to work with, Will Maddox got the ball rolling with a scorching shot over the wall in right. After a walk and a VU error, Drew Steckenrider delivered an RBI single. A strikeout and a groundout put two outs on the board but also moved two Tennessee runners into scoring position before Commodore closer Will Clinard got a groundout to third to end the game.
“We made it hard on ourselves today,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “We had some opportunities today that we let go. I think we left 12 guys on base. We had the one situation where the umpires reversed the call and we had runners on and their guy gets out of the inning. You just have to tip your hat to their guy. We have the bases loaded with no outs and don’t score a run there.
“You can look at the scoreboard and see that outhit us, but they out performed us when it mattered. That is what, as a coach, you continue to get frustrated about. I understand that it is a learning process, but we have been in too many of those situations to not understand what we need to do to be a successful team.”
After going 4-for-5 with four doubles and four RBIs on Friday night, Steckenrider had another strong day at the plate on Saturday with three singles, a walk and an RBI in five plate appearances. Maddox launched his second career home run and drew a pair of walks in the contest as well.
Fellow first-year Vol Robbie Kidd gave the Vols a solid effort in his seventh start of the year, allowing three runs in 4.2 innings, but suffered the loss, falling to 2-3 on the season. Another freshman, Conner Stevens, finished out the game for UT with a career-high tying 4.1 innings of work.
Steven Rice (1-0) picked up the win in relief for VU and Clinard recorded the final three outs to record his first save.
Vanderbilt jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the opening frame as it got an RBI single from Conrad Gregor, while a UT error allowed another run to score on the same play.
Tennessee threatened to put a big dent in the scoreboard in the home half of the first, but had to settle for one as it cut the deficit in half. The Vols quickly loaded the bases with just one out thanks to a VU error and back-to-back singles by Davis Morgan and Steckenrider.
Chris Pierce followed with a high chopper to third to bring in UT's first run of the game. Vanderbilt third baseman Andrew Harris tried to step on third for the force out, but missed it and his throw to first was offline, keeping the bases loaded for the Big Orange. They were unable to take advantage, however, as a shallow flyout to left and a strikeout brought the first inning to a close.
Two stanzas later, the Vols used some aggressive baserunning to tie the game up at 2-2. Morgan opened the frame with a leadoff walk and Steckenrider followed with his second single of the game to put runners on the corners. UT called for a delayed steal and it worked to perfection as Vanderbilt threw down to second, Steckenrider got in a rundown and Morgan scored easily from third to tie the game up.
After three shutout frames from Kidd, the Commodores regained the lead in the fifth, as Gregor knocked in his second run of the game on his third hit, a two-out single to center.
With VU leading 3-2, the Orange and White had a fantastic opportunity slip through its fingers in the bottom of the fifth. Consecutive walks and a bunt single by Pierce loaded the bases with nobody out but Vanderbilt reliever Drew VerHagen was able to induce a 1-2-3 double play and strikeout the next batter to thwart the threat.
The Commodores extended their lead with a run in the fifth before breaking the game open with a three-run frame in the sixth. Connor Harrell later hit a solo shot to left to lead off the eighth to put Vanderbilt ahead 7-2, where the score would stay until Tennessee's comeback attempt in the ninth.
The two teams will battle it out for the series win with a rubber match set to start at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Vanderbilt will send southpaw Kevin Ziomek (3-6, 4.89) to the mound, while counter with a lefty of their own in sophomore Dalton Saberhagen who will make his first start of the season.