KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Fans of the Tennessee baseball program got their first glimpse of the new-look Vols on Friday as they took out Western Carolina, 6-3, on a beautiful fall evening at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“This was a total evaluation day for our coaching staff,” first-year UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “We’ve only seen our team play against each other and this kind of tells us where we are at. We walked away tonight feeling good about how we responded. When I’ve had games like this in the past our teams don’t always respond really well, but when I look back at this game we threw strikes, played good defense and executed offensively.
“As you see in our lineup, we have some youth,” Serrano said. “It’s going to take the leadership of players like (Drew) Steckenrider, (Zach) Osborne, Chris Pierce and Chris Fritts to help this team through some of the growing pains we are going to go through. I’ve been very proud of how those guys have stepped up. As the guys ran off the field tonight, you could see the enjoyment on their faces. They are working hard and it is starting to pay off for them.”
Zach Luther, Chris Pierce and Drew Steckenrider each recorded RBI singles for the Volunteers, while five UT pitchers held the Catamounts to three runs on eight hits and an error.
Nick Blount got the unofficial win for the Big Orange, twirling two innings of one-run ball on just one hit. Nick Williams earned the save after striking out two over the game's final two frames.
Steckenrider pulled double-duty for Tennessee. As the team’s starting pitcher, the Lawrenceville, Ga., native allowed one run on three hits while striking out two in two innings of work. He finished his day at the plate, 2-for-4 with a pair of singles, two RBIs and a run scored.
“I think Steckenrider can be a special player,” Serrano said. “The makings are there, it is just a matter of staying consistent and starting to play with some confidence and I think we are starting to see that. We are starting to see him as a different person. He’s actually talking more, smiling more and having fun out on the field.”
Chris Fritts had a solid day offensively as well, reaching base three times, stealing two bases and scoring a run. Will Maddox also had a single, a stolen base and a run for the Vols.
Tennessee wasted little time jumping on top of the Catamounts, using some aggressive baserunning to take a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Maddox got the ball rolling with a leadoff single to right before moving to second two batters later when Fritts was hit by a pitch.
The Vols then put their new “pressure” offense on full display as Maddox took third on a fly ball to medium-depth centerfield and scored the first run of the game just minutes later when UT deployed delayed double steal. Fritts was able to distract the WCU defense just long enough and slide in under the tag at second as Maddox swiped home on the play.
Although Western Carolina answered in the following frame with an RBI single by Aaron Attaway to tie the score, Tennessee took the lead back in the bottom of the fourth with a pair of runs on just one hit.
The Orange and White took advantage of two walks and a hit batter to load the bases and Luther came through with a clutch, two-out single through the left side to put UT ahead 3-1. The Vols later increased their lead to five with an RBI single by Pierce in the sixth and two-run base knock by Steckenrider in the seventh.
The Catamounts got back within shouting distance with a pair of unearned runs in the top of the eighth and got a leadoff triple from Dykota Spiess in the ninth, but Williams buckled down to get the final three batters, including two big punchouts to end the contest.
Friday marked the only fall game for Tennessee, but the Vols will continue practicing until Oct. 28 with intrasquad scrimmages every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
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TENNESEE OFFENSIVE LEADERS
Drew Steckenrider – 2-for-4, 2 RBIs, 2 R
Chris Fritts – 1-for-3, 2 HBP, 2 SB, 1 R
Will Maddox – 1-for-3, SB, R
Zach Luther – 1-for-4, 2 RBIs, SB
Drew Steckenrider – 2.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 K, 1 BB
Nick Blount (Win) – 2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
T.J. Thornton – 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K
David Horne – 2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K
Nick Williams (Save) – 2.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K