KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- A two-out, two-run single in the top of the eighth proved to be the difference on Friday as No. 13 Florida (37-18, 21-8) clinched the series victory with a 4-2 win over Tennessee (30-22, 11-18) at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Tennessee will close out the 2014 regular-season at 1 p.m. on Saturday as it plays for a chance to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007. Prior to the contest, the Vols will honor the careers of five seniors - Pierce Bily, Scott Price, Dalton Saberhagen, Taylor Smart and Nick Williams.
With Auburn and Georgia both losing Friday, a win in the series finale would send UT to the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2007. Tennessee will start sophomore southpaw Andy Cox (4-1, 2.08) while the Gators will counter with a sophomore lefty of their own in Danny Young (5-0, 2.16).
"It's important for us to get to the SEC Tournament, but I just said to this team that for this program to get past where it has been the past seven years, we have to do something," UT head coach Dave Serrano said. "I don't want to worry about what Auburn or Georgia is doing. I want to win to get in. Obviously, everybody affiliated with this program just wants to get in, but it will feel so much better if we win to get in.
"Last night I was pretty soft on the team because of the fact that it was a devastating, heart-wrenching loss that we, in ways, created ourselves. Tonight, I wasn't that easy. The frustration came out in me because, in life, you need to go get something if you want it. No one is going to give you anything. Too many times people think, `Well, I'll just take the easy road.' I don't want to take the easy road. I want this program to be built on grit and grind and deserving everything we get. Again, there won't be a person that will be disappointed if we get in by backing in, but I want to go in through the front door. That's how I want to continue to build this program. We're going to get everything we deserve.
"Tomorrow's a big day for me. It's a big day for everyone affiliated with this program. We've got to go out and play good baseball. We've got to show up with the right mentality and not wait for something to happen. We've got to create it to happen. That's how you get to the next level and continue playing on."
Making his final career start in his hometown on Friday evening, recent UT graduate Nick Williams (5-5) suffered the tough-luck loss for the Vols despite firing 8.0 strong innings, allowing four runs - two earned - on nine hits while striking out two.
Florida freshman A.J. Puk (5-2) earned the win, striking out five and allowing one run on three hits in five innings. Kirby Snead picked up his second save in as many days with 2.1 innings of one-run ball out of the bullpen.
Taylor Smart led the UT offense with a pair of hits, including his fourth home run of the season. It was also his second longball of the series and third in his last three SEC contests.
For just the second time in their last 11 SEC games, the Vols fell behind to start the contest when the Gators used a pair of doubles to score the first run of the contest in the opening frame.
The Vols got it right back in the bottom of the second though when Smart hit his second game-tying home run in as many days to knot the score back up at 1-1, launching a 1-0 pitch off the top of the foul pole in left.
Following three scoreless stanzas by both starting pitchers, Florida jumped back out in front, 2-1, thanks to an RBI groundout in the top half of the sixth.
The Gators threatened to add more in the following frame, putting runners on the corners with one out, but WillMaddox played a squeeze bunt perfectly, charging in, barehanding the ball and gunning the runner down at the plate.
Tennessee came close to tying it up in the bottom of the inning, working five full counts in the frame en route to loading the bases. A called third strike with Christin Stewart at the plate ended the threat, however.
Florida took that momentum and ran with it, quickly loading the bases with just one out in the top of the eighth. Although the Vols caught a bit of a break with a runner's interference call that brought a runner back to third, the Gators got a huge two-out, two-RBI single from Josh Tobias to push their lead to 4-1.
The Vols used a two-out rally of their own to get one of the runs back just moments later when Vincent Jackson lined a single to center, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on an RBI base hit by A.J. Simcox.
That would be all the Vols could muster though as Snead worked around a leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth to close