KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT/SUBMITTED) – Senior Scott Price set the tone with a leadoff home run in the first inning, and sophomore Drake Owenby closed the door with a four-out save to give the Tennessee baseball team a 5-3 win over Appalachian State on Wednesday.
The win gives the Volunteers a 4-0 start to the 2014 season with the unbeaten UNLV Rebels (4-0) coming to Knoxville for a three-game series this weekend.
“Like I told the team, we’ll always take wins,” said head coach Dave Serrano. “I felt like we had to overcome ourselves a little bit today. I thought from an offensive standpoint we weren’t on it and that’s human nature. When you score 31 runs in the previous three games, you come out and you have a tendency to get complacent.
“We as a coaching staff keep stressing that we have done nothing yet and we have to continue to remind them that we’re proud we’ve gotten out of the gate 4-0, but we’ve done nothing and have to keep working each and every day to become a better team. The ingredients are there, it’s about us doing that.”
After a 1-2-3 inning from sophomore lefty Andy Cox in the top half of the first, Price ledoff the bottom portion of the frame by sending a 2-2 pitch over the wall in left field to give Tennessee the early 1-0 lead. It was UT's first leadoff home run since former Vol Khayyan Norfork accomplished the feat on March 17, 2011 against Austin Peay. The hit also extended Price’s hit streak to 16 games, dating back to an April 26, 2013 matchup at Florida.
“We think that (Scott Price) is going to start the game off with a big bang most of the time,” said Serrano on moving Price to leadoff. “Like I continue to say, and it’s not to put pressure on him, he’s one of the better hitters in the SEC and one of the better hitters in the country. The opponents get the opportunity to face him right out of the gate and he just continues to square-up baseballs like he has done for the last year and a half.”
Working on a pitch count, Cox gave Tennessee four strong innings, allowing just two hits and one run to earn the victory. The Arlington, Tenn., native retired his first seven batters and tossed 52 pitches – 33 for strikes – in his first start of the season.
The Mountaineers (0-4) leveled the game with an RBI double by catcher Ozzy Gonzalez in the top of the fourth inning, but the Vols quickly regained control with a Vincent Jackson sacrifice fly to score Christin Stewart in the bottom half.
Tennessee executed the inside game perfectly in the fifth inning as Will Maddox – hitting from the No. 9 slot – walked to lead things off. Maddox went on to steal second and reach third on a passed ball. Sophomore shortstop A.J. Simcox dropped down a perfectly-placed bunt, sending Maddox across the plate to give UT a 3-1 lead. With Price on second after reaching on a walk and Simcox at first, Stewart ripped a RBI double just out of reach for the diving App State right fielder. Price came around to score and Tennessee held a 4-1 advantage after five innings of play.
Trevor Bettencourt and Peter Lenstrohm combined to throw three strong innings of relief, allowing no runs to cross the plate. However, the Mountaineers were able to keep the Big Orange off the scoreboard for both the sixth and seventh innings.
The Mountaineers made things interesting in the top of the eighth inning, posting two runs on three hits off junior college transfer Zac Grotz. With Grotz struggling, Serrano turned to Owenby.
The sophomore closer came in with two down in the eighth and immediately got out of the jam with an infield flyout to Maddox at second base.
Behind a Nick Senzel triple and a David Houser sacrifice fly, the Vols tacked on an insurance run in the eighth, giving them a 5-3 lead. Serrano handed the ball back to Owenby in the ninth, and he was able to get a groundout and sit two Mountaineers down on strikes to clinch the four-out save and the victory. It was Owenby’s second save in four days.
Tennessee returns to action with a highly-anticipated series against UNLV this weekend. The Vols welcome the Rebels to Knoxville after traveling to Las Vegas a season ago, where UNLV won three out of four. Game times are slated for 5 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. UT will send senior Nick Williams to the mound on Friday, freshman Kyle Serrano on Saturday and sophomore Andrew Lee on Sunday.