JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (request) – Despite out-hitting East Tennessee State 12-10, Tennessee dropped a 9-7 decision in Johnson City Tuesday night as the Buccaneers swept the season series in front of a record crowd of 1,811 at Thomas Stadium.
Down four entering the ninth, Tennessee (25-14) plated two runs off three consecutive hits – two singles and a double – but the ninth-inning rally fell short as Scott Price grounded into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play.
Seven Vol pitchers combined to allow 10 hits and six walks to the Bucs (20-18), who took advantage of the free passes. The UT hurlers also allowed the leadoff man on for ETSU in six of the eight innings the Bucs picked up the bats.
“It starts on the mound and we definitely didn’t compete on the mound,” said head coach Dave Serrano. “I thought we had a horrible presence on the mound, which hasn’t been happening lately. I don’t know what set in coming over here to Johnson City, but our presence was really bad on the mound and it set the tone for the day. We didn’t have anybody until later in the game when Nick (Williams) and Andrew (Lee) that really set the tone of getting any tempo for our offense.
“I commend our offense even though we came up short, for the fact that this was a very frustrating day from the defensive side on the mound, but they kept battling. They did everything they could to get back in this game; we had just given up too much too early.”
Offensively, the top four batters in the Big Orange lineup went a combined 10-for-19, all recording multi-hit games. Middle infielders Nick Senzel and A.J. Simcox led the way with three singles each, with Senzel bringing home RBIs No. 29 and 30 on the season. Leadoff man Will Maddox and three-hole hitter Christin Stewart were both 2-for-5. Stewart also drove in a run, tying Senzel for the team lead with 30. He also hit his team-leading 13th double of the season,
Vincent Jackson and Price also registered hits for UT. Jackson jumped all over a hanging curveball from ETSU’s Jared Burton and sent it over the wall in right center for his first home run of the season in the sixth inning.
ETSU also hit two longballs in the game, coming off the bats of All-American Clinton Freeman and Tyler Roach. Roach was 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs for the Bucs.
In total, 13 pitchers toed the rubber on Tuesday night. ETSU starter Jimmy Nesselt (5-3) came away with the win, while UT starter Bret Marks (3-1) suffered his first defeat. Freeman came picked up his ninth save of the season, working the eighth and the ninth.
ETSU loaded the bases with no outs off Marks in the first, but could only push across one run on a sac fly. Marks worked out of the inning with a strikeout and a fly ball to left field to keep the Bucs’ lead at 1-0.
Maddox extended his hit streak to nine games with his ninth bunt single of the season in the third, coming with two down. It was the Vols’ 25th bunt single of the season.
The Buccaneers got the leadoff man on for the third time in as many innings and went on to load the bases with no outs for the second time in three frames in the bottom of the third. This time, ETSU made UT pay, scoring three runs on three hits to take a 4-0 lead. The big hit came from designated hitter Kevin Phillips, who ripped a one-out, two-run double down the left field line. Trey York followed with a single into right field, bringing home the Bucs’ fourth tally of the game. Right-hander Trevor Bettencourt then relieved Drake Owenby and retired the next two batters to end the frame.
The Vols trimmed the ETSU lead to 4-3 in the top of the fourth frame, plating three runs on three hits and two ETSU errors. Tennessee opened the inning with three straight singles by Stewart, Senzel and Price to bring in its first run. Following a sac bunt by Taylor Smart, Jackson hit into a 3-2 groundout to bring home Senzel for his 19th RBI of the season. Catcher Tyler Schultz followed by reaching on a throwing error by the third baseman, bringing home Price to cut the lead to just one.
A 400-foot solo home run by Freeman and an unearned run brought home by a failed pickoff and a double by Roach in the bottom half of the fourth put the Bucs’ lead back to three at 6-3.
The Orange and White got one back in the fifth off three singles. Maddox led off the frame with a roped single through the right side, but he was thrown out trying to steal his 16th bag of the season. Simcox went to the opposite field for a single and advanced to second on a groundout by Stewart. With two down, Senzel pounded a ball through the right side to bring home his team-high tying 29th RBI of the season, cutting the lead to 6-4.
A leadoff triple by York sparked another two-run inning for ETSU, giving the Bucs an 8-4 lead after five innings of play at Thompson Stadium.
Tennessee scored for the third inning in a row in the sixth as Jackson sent the hanger over the wall in right center for his first home run of the season and the third of his career. The Jackson dinger cut the Bucs’ lead to 8-5.
ETSU closed its scoring with its second home run of the night as Roach continued his big performance, blasting a solo shot over the left-center wall to extend the lead to 9-5.
UT tried to mount the comeback in the ninth, but the Price twin-killing put an end to the rally.
The Orange and White returns to Southeastern Conference play on Friday night in Baton Rouge, La., as the Vols open a three-game series against LSU at Alex Box Stadium. First pitch against the ninth-ranked Tigers (31-10-1, 10-7-1) is slated for 8 p.m. ET.
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