KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- The Tennessee baseball team improved to 6-0 and clinched the series against No. 29 UNLV with a 5-4, walk-off win on Saturday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
It’s the second time the Vols have started a season 6-0 under head coach Dave Serrano and the fourth time in program history. The win also evens the all-time series between UNLV (4-2) and Tennessee at four games apiece. Six of the last seven meetings between the two programs have been decided by just one run.
Leading 4-2 heading into the ninth inning, Serrano turned to sophomore closer Drake Owenby, who was looking to notch his third save in seven days.
Owenby and the Vols came within a pitch of closing the game out, but UNLV’s Erik Vanmeetren singled a 3-2 pitch through the left side of the infield to plate a pair of Rebels, who were on the move with two down in the frame. Owenby got out of the jam with a fly ball to right field, leaving two on base for UNLV.
Freshman Nathaniel Maggio had a great at-bat with one out against UNLV’s Kenny Oakley in the ninth, forcing the count full and drawing a walk. UT newcomer Johnny Youngblood came in to pinch run for Maggio and immediately stole second base. With a Vol in scoring position, UNLV pitched cautiously to senior Taylor Smart, who also walked.
Junior Will Maddox then jumped on the first pitch, sending a fly ball to deep right field. The Rebels’ outfielder made the catch and fired the ball to his cutoff man as Youngblood looked to take third on the tag-up. Matt McCallister, the UNLV shortstop, cut the ball off but tried to cut down Smart at second base. McCallister sailed the ball over the glove of the Rebels’ second baseman, allowing Youngblood to trot home for the Vols’ walk-off win. It was UT’s first walk-off victory since Pierce Bily singled in a run in the ninth inning against Missouri on March 23 of last season. Owenby got the win and is now 1-0 with two saves on the season.
“It just shows you the resiliency of our team fighting back and holding on, and it shows the resiliency of their team,” said Serrano. “They aren’t going to go away. They fought back last night to within a swing of tying it. They tied it today, but we were fortunate enough to scrap out a run on a miscue by them in the bottom of the ninth.
“It is a good test for us, and this is why you schedule good people. It challenges your team and allows you to see where some of your deficiencies are. I just hope I can last through the year with all this tension. I love what these guys are bringing to the table. It’s not perfect and it never will be. They are finding ways to win and that is important.”
Despite the dramatics in the ninth, it was Tennessee left-hander Andy Cox who shined on Saturday. Entering in relief of freshman starter Kyle Serrano in the third inning, Cox threw 5.1 innings of no-hit, shutout baseball to help UT build its 4-2 lead. Cox was dominant, striking out a career-high five and walking just three. He allowed no runs over the course of 73 pitches, including 50 strikes, to get Tennessee to the ninth inning. Cox is now 2-0 on the season after picking up the win in his start against Appalachian State on Wednesday.
“Today was about Andy Cox,” said Coach Serrano. “The tempo was not set early-on for us with Kyle, but Andy came in and changed the whole momentum of the game. He wasn’t allowing good swings. He was pounding the strike zone. That’s what wins games. Guys who throw strikes with tempo leads to great defense behind them. We turned a bunch of double plays to get out of innings. That is when baseball gets fun.”
UNLV led off the game with a triple past a diving Scott Price in right field and singled in the run two batters later to strike first. The Vols took their first lead in the bottom of the first, when sophomore catcher David Houser laced a two-RBI single to left center.
The Rebels went up 2-1 in the third inning after Kyle Serrano walked two and hit a batter, prompting Coach Serrano to hand the ball over to Cox.
The Vols rallied behind the Arlington, Tenn., native on the mound and re-took the lead in the fifth inning, 4-2. UT added runs off a throwing error by the UNLV catcher and an A.J. Simcox fielder’s choice. Cox continued his dominance for the remainder of his outing.
Held hitless through his first two at-bats, Price was able to extend his hit streak to 18 games in the bottom of the seventh with a two-out single up the middle of the infield. His streak dates back to April 26, 2013 at Florida.
Houser was the only Vol to record a multiple-hit game, leading the Orange and White with a 2-for-3, two-RBI performance at the plate. It was the second game in a row the Vols were out-hit by the Rebels (7-5) but still pulled out the win.
Tennessee will go for the series sweep of the No. 29 UNLV Rebels on Sunday. First pitch between UT ace Andrew Lee (1-0, 1.80) and UNLV’s Bryan Bonnell (1-0, 1.00) is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Sunday is Kid’s Day at the ballpark, and all kids 12 and under will receive free admission.