Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Senior Taylor Smart was 2-for-4 and accounted for all four of the Vols’ RBIs on Friday, but No. 25 Tennessee couldn’t hang onto a 3-0 lead as in-state SEC rival Vanderbilt scored six runs in the middle innings to take the series opener 6-4.
After starting league play with a 2-1 record, Tennessee has managed just one win in its last seven SEC games to fall to 3-6. The Vols stand at 19-9 overall. The Commodores improve to 25-6 overall and 6-4 in conference action with the win. UT has lost six in a row to the ’Dores.
“I thought we took a big step forward as a team,” said head coach Dave Serrano. “It's hard for people to understand that – we lost and we don't want to lose to anyone, let alone our in-state rival – but I thought tonight, in a losing effort, we took a big step and I think it's going to pay dividends for the rest of the weekend and as we move on through our schedule. I thought we did a lot more things in character. The focus and the energy were there. We just lost tonight's game.”
Vandy’s Friday night ace Tyler Beede gave up three runs in the first inning and then settled in. The junior retired the next 21 of 25 batters he faced, tossing 120 pitches over 8.0 innings of work. The All-American gave up five hits, four runs and two walks, while striking out six to earn the win.
Smart shined on offense once again for the Vols, going 2-for-4 at the plate with a three-run double and a solo home run. He accounted for all four of Tennessee’s RBIs and extended his hit streak to six games. Smart is hitting .458 (11-for-24) with four doubles, eight RBIs and a homer during the streak.
“Taylor Smart has really become an unsung hero and a leader in this program,” said Serrano. “I have a lot of respect for Taylor and he does it right. He's gritty, he's going to say what's on his mind, and I would love for Taylor to continue to show that leadership and for more guys to jump on board with him.”
Christin Stewart got the two-out rally started for the Volunteers in the bottom half of the first, sending a single back up the middle off Beede. Freshman designated hitter Nick Senzel then drove a single into right center, moving Stewart over to third in the process. Scott Price was hit by a 1-1 pitch from Beede, bringing up Smart with the bases loaded. He extended his hit streak with a three-run double off the left center wall – just a couple feet shy of a home run – to give Tennessee the early 3-0 lead.
Vanderbilt recorded four hits in a row – two singles and two doubles – and executed a double steal to tack on three runs in the fourth and tie the game at 3-3. The ’Dores hit senior righty Nick Williams hard in the frame, sending two shots to the left field wall. Vince Conde delivered the big hit in the inning, sending a two-RBI double off the wall.
The Commodores hit three doubles in the fifth inning, bringing their game total to six, to add two more runs off Williams. Coach Serrano turned to sophomore southpaw Andy Cox after 4 1/3 innings from Williams. Cox came in and got the final two outs of the inning for the Vols. Williams gave up five runs – all earned – and eight hits, while striking out four in the outing. He took his third loss of the season.
Vanderbilt extended its lead to 6-3 with some help from the Vols in the sixth inning. Tennessee, one of the nation’s top defensive teams, committed two throwing errors to allow Conde to cross the plate.
Smart continued swinging the hot bat in the sixth, snapping Beede’s stretch of 12 of the last 14 retired with a solo home run to The Porch in left center at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The senior’s first dinger of the season cut the Vanderbilt lead to 6-4.
Vanderbilt handed the ball over to the SEC’s save leader – Carson Fulmer – in the ninth inning. Fulmer sat the Vols down in order to earn his ninth save of the season.
Tennessee looks for win No. 20 and to snap a six-game skid vs. the Commodores on Saturday night. First pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m. ET, in a game that will air on CSS with Matt Stewart and former Vol Rusty Ensor on the call.