KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Behind a 128-pitch gem from senior right-hander Nick Williams, a four-RBI night by Christin Stewart and a 3-for-4, two-RBI performance from Derek Lance, Tennessee bounced back to even the series with No. 25 Kentucky with an 8-2 win on Friday night.
The Vols improved to 27-17 overall and 9-14 in Southeastern Conference play with the victory, while the Wildcats fall to 28-18 overall and cling to a one-game lead on UT in league action at 10-13.
"I'm proud of our guys," said head coach Dave Serrano. "They took ownership of what happened last night and all you can do is come back the next day and lay it on the line between the lines and I thought we did a good job of that."
Williams battled on the mound to earn his fifth win of the season, giving up just two runs while striking out a season-high eight over a season-high 128 pitches. It was the second highest pitch total of the senior's career. Freshman Kyle Serrano came in to earn his first career save, giving up just one hit over three shutout innings.
"I was excited to have Nick on the mound to be honest with you," said Serrano. "Last night in the dugout with the way that game was materializing, I could see the look in Nick's face. He's a senior and he wants to get to the tournament for the first time in his career. Nick doesn't show a lot of emotion; he leads by example and is a great teammate. His stuff wasn't great tonight, but he grinded it out for 128 pitches and really fought and fought against his body at times and was able to give us a great opportunity to win this game and even the series."
Offensively, UT was led by Lance, Stewart and Taylor Smart. Lance went 3-for-4 at the plate with three runs scored, two driven in and a double, while Stewart cleared the bases with a three-RBI triple in the second inning. The Lawrenceville, Ga., native leads the SEC with six triple this season. Smart added a multi-hit game for UT, going 2-for-3 with two runs scored and a double.
Tennessee played the inside game perfectly in the second and got the big hit from Stewart to strike first. UT got the leadoff man on for the second straight inning with a walk and Vincent Jackson moved Smart into scoring position with a sac bunt. Following a David Houser hit by pitch, the Vols came up with a well-executed hit-and-run with Lance at the plate. As the runners broke, Lance hit a soft line drive through the six-hole to bring home Smart and give UT the 1-0 lead.
Following an A.J. Simcox walk - the fourth of the game by UK's Dylan Dwyer - Stewart blasted his SEC-leading sixth triple of the season off the right field wall on the fly, just missing a grand slam. Stewart's rip gave the Big Orange a 4-0 advantage after two innings.
UK got one run back in the third and forced Williams to throw a lot of pitches as the Wildcats brought six men to the plate. However, Williams kept the damage to a minimum as he worked out of a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout - his fourth of the game.
Kentucky chipped away with the longball once again in the fourth inning as Matt Reida hit a one-out solo shot over the right field wall to cut the deficit to 4-2. It was Reida's second homer of the series.
The Vols answered in the bottom half of the fourth, starting the frame with three-consecutive singles by Houser, Lance and Will Maddox. Maddox loaded the bags with his team-leading 11th bunt single of the season.
After a Simcox strikeout, Stewart stepped in with the bases juiced once again. This time, he battled for an eight-pitch walk to bring in his fourth run of the game. Freshman Nick Senzel tacked on another for the Big Orange with a RBI groundout, giving Tennessee a 6-2 lead.
UT continued to jump on the Wildcats early in innings as Smart ripped a leadoff double off the left center wall on one hop to start the fifth. It was the fourth time the Vols got the leadoff man on base in the game. After two quick outs, Lance delivered another big hit as the Knoxville native drove a double to right center, bringing in his second run of the night with his third hit to make it 7-2. Simcox added a RBI single through the left side, extending the Vols' lead to the final margin of 8-2 after just five innings of play.
Dwyer (5-3), the UK starter, took the loss after giving up six runs in just three innings of work. Kentucky's high-powered offense was limited to just eight hits on the night.
The Vols will look to win the series on Saturday at Noon ET. UT will hand the ball to sophomore southpaw Andy Cox, while Kentucky plans to throw right-hander Andrew Nelson. The game will be broadcast live on the Fox Sports Network with Dave Baker and Larry Conley on the call.