KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Making his final start at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, senior Zack Godley left it all on the line, striking out a career high 13 batters in his sixth complete game of the year, but Texas A&M starter Daniel Mengden matched him pitch-for-pitch, firing a complete-game gem of his own as the Aggies won the series opener over the Volunteers, 5-1, on Thursday night.
"It was a typical Friday night matchup," UT head coach Dave Serrano said. "Their guy and Zack locked horns and they got the best of us. They were able to scratch out some runs, and I truly mean scratch out, because as hard as they were swinging the bat -and they were swinging hard- a lot of their runs came by little seam balls that we couldn't get outs on and it ended up costing us.
“We didn't get hits when we needed to, we didn't get the outs we needed to but that was just a good baseball game that we lost. Their pitcher out-dueled our pitcher. I don't think it was because we didn't compete well, I just think we got beat tonight, and got beat by a team that outplayed us tonight. I don't think the magnitude of the series had anything to do with the outcome of the game.”
Godley twirled his SEC-leading sixth complete game of the season, allowing five runs (four earned) on nine hits and three walks. The 13 strikeouts best his previous career high of 10 set against ULM on March 9, 2012.
With nine more innings on Thursday, Godley now leads the conference with 108.1 this season, marking the highest total by a UT pitcher since James Adkins pitched 122.0 innings in 2007.
“I will say this, I hope it's not, but if that's Zack Godley's last game here wearing this uniform, he has nothing to be ashamed of,” Serrano said. “The team didn't come out on top today but that young man, for the last two years I've been here in this program, has given us everything he can.
“I said to the team after the game that we all have someone that we can learn from. Whether you're a pitcher or a position player, there is a young man that gave his all, fought, never showed that he was ever scared in any situation and just competed his tail off and that's all I ask of our guys each and every day."
For Texas A&M, Mengden yielded just one run on seven hits in his complete-game effort, striking out four and walking two to improve to 7-3 on the season.
Christin Stewart led the Tennessee offense with his first career three-hit game. Scott Price also had a pair of hits and a walk for the Big Orange while Ethan Bennett had a double and drove in the team's only run of the game.
With Missouri’s 4-2 win over Kentucky on Thursday, the Vols now have to win their final two games and the Tigers have to lose both of theirs in order for UT to make its first trip to Hoover, Ala., for the SEC Tournament since 2007.
The Aggies took a 1-0 lead with an RBI infield single in the third but the Vols got the run back in the fourth to tie the game. After singles by Will Maddox and Price put runners on the corners, Bennett pulled a groundball to short to make it a 1-1 game.
It wouldn't stay that way for long though as Cory Lankford put A&M back in front with an RBI single through the left side of the infield in the top of the fifth.
Leading 2-1 going into the top of the seventh, Texas A&M quickly put two runners in scoring position with just one out. Godley looked like he was going to escape the jam unscathed, striking out his 10th batter of the game and working ahead of Hunter Melton, 0-2.
It wasn't meant to be though as Melton hit a chopper deep in the hole at short to drive in one run and Troy Stein followed with a base hit right back up the middle on the very next pitch to drive in two more and give the Aggies a commanding, 5-1, lead.
Tennessee had an opportunity to cut into its deficit in the home half of the seventh as Bennett led things off with a double down the left-field line and a single by Stewart put runners on the corners with nobody out.
The Vols then put Stewart in motion but A&M sniffed out the play and fired the ball right back to the pitcher who was able to get Bennett in a rundown for the first out. Two flyballs to right then ended the threat.
Mengden would go on to retire eight of the last 10 batters that he faced to close out the series-opening win for the Aggies.
The two teams will be back at it at 6 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The Vols will send junior RHP Nick Williams (2-4, 5.03) to the mound while Texas A&M will counter with junior right-hander Parker Ray (0-1, 1.83).