KNOXVILLE, Tenn.(UT release) - After drawing a one-out walk in the bottom of the 11th inning, senior Chris Pierce took advantage of three consecutive wild pitches to score the game-winning run as Tennessee defeated Seton Hall, 3-2, to claim its sixth straight victory to open the 2012 season on Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The 6-0 start is the second-best in school history behind only the 2003 season when the Vols opened with eight consecutive victories. Saturday's win also clinches a series victory over the Pirates who fall to 2-4 on the year.
Saturday's victory also marked the second in extra innings for the Vols in the last five days as they squeaked out a 13-inning triumph over Western Kentucky, 8-7, on Tuesday.
"I'm proud of the 6-0 (start) but I'm even more proud of the fact that we haven't had many easy ones, even if the scores have been a little lopsided," UT Head Coach Dave Serrano said. "It hasn't been easy and I think it's going to pay dividends for us down the line. The confidence that we gain in coming back from situations to be able to win games is why we like to play tough competition.
"I respect Seton Hall and they have a great pitching staff. I just told the team in there that that is a team that's going to compete for the BIG EAST championship. We have played them in two good games and we have faced some of the best pitching we have seen all year. We have been able to come out on the topside of it. To see the second game this week where we come from behind to win it late is very promising."
Tennessee got six strong innings from starting pitcher Zack Godley who struck out a career-high seven batters and allowed just one run on three hits and a walk. The junior was saddled with a no-decision, however, after leaving with the score tied 1-1.
Sophomore closer Nick Williams picked up the win after coming on to record the final seven outs for the Vols. Fellow classmate Carter Watson added 2.2 innings of relief as well, striking out two and allowing just one unearned run.
"We are starting off the season great right now, but it doesn't matter how we start, only how we finish," Williams said. "My job is to come in and stop the other team from getting runs. My main focus was holding the team to zero runs in the innings I pitched and I did that. I am glad we pulled the win out today.
"I think it will help us later on in the year knowing that we have faced two nail-biters thus far and come out with the victory. Later in the year if this happens again we know we will be ready for it and anxious to get the job done."
The Big Orange had to scrape and claw for everything it could get on Saturday as they were limited to a season-low five hits and were issued just four walks, which also tied a season low. No Vol had more than one hit and Pierce had the team's only RBI on the day.
"What I have continued to learn is that this coaching staff really likes competing with these guys," Serrano said. "It's fun competing with them and it's getting more fun. I would have said that to [the team] whether we had won or lost that game. They are into every pitch and they are involved. We know it's never going to be perfect and we know it's never going to be easy, but they are committed to playing for each other and playing for this team each and every day."
After five quiet innings, the Vols finally got a chance to utilize their pressure offense in the sixth after Zach Luther reached with one out on a hit-by-pitch. The junior promptly swiped second before moving to third on a single to right by Zach Osborne. Pierce followed with a perfectly executed safety squeeze to bring in UT's first run of the game and tie the score at 1-1.
Seton Hall answered right back in the top of the seventh though, taking advantage of Tennessee's fourth error of the game to regain the advantage. With the bases loaded and two outs, Scott Kalamar hit a dribbler off the end of the bat back to the mound, but it had a little too much spin for Watson to handle, allowing Giuseppe Papaccio to score from third. Watson limited the damage, however, striking out the next batter to strand three other Pirate baserunners.
The back-and-forth battle continued after the seventh-inning stretch as the Big Orange brought the contest back to a deadlock. Following singles by Fritts and pinch-hitter Will Maddox, Seton Hall reliever Brian Gilbert uncorked a wild pitch and the throw to third by the catcher sailed into left field to allow Fritts to score and tie the game and set up the Vols' 11th-inning heroics.
The series finale between Tennessee and Seton Hall is set for noon on Sunday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Junior Nick Blount will make his second start for the Vols this season.