KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) – Sophomore Nick Williams struck out eight in a career-high 8.2 innings, Drew Steckenrider tied the school record with four doubles while knocking in four runs and Ethan Bennett launched his third home run of the season as Tennessee cruised past Vanderbilt, 8-2, in the series opener on a beautiful Friday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“I am very proud of our guys, there is no doubt,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “They have been down in the dumps. We have strung together a lot of losses, and they needed this tonight. It couldn’t have come against a better opponent and it is against a team we are fighting for a playoff berth with.
“The team stepped up today, but Nick Williams did a fabulous job. Obviously Drew Steckenrider offensively too, and the lineup functioned well tonight with productive outs. It feels good to get in the win column again because it seems like a long time since we have been able to do that.”
Williams (3-4) retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced before handing the ball to Conner Stevens for the game's final out. He allowed just two runs on six hits in the best start of his collegiate career.
Steckenrider finished 4-for-5 at the plate with a personal-best four RBIs and a school-record tying four doubles. Josh Liles is the only other Vol to accomplish the feat, doing so against Charlotte on April 2, 2008.
He was the only UT player with a multi-hit contest, however, as six of the team’s other eight starters had a hit and eight different players scored one run each in the victory.
T.J. Percoraro (0-3) suffered the loss for the Commodores, allowing three runs on three hits and three walks in 4.2 innings
Tennessee now has at least one win against half of the field from last year’s College World Series with triumphs over Texas, South Carolina, Florida and now Vanderbilt this season.
“I think it was a collective effort tonight,” Serrano said. “I tell the truth all the time and I told the team before the game that I am at the front of the ship and we have sunk. All we can do is come back to the top. Hopefully they bought into that and there is nothing to dwell on anymore. All we can do is go forward and go up and they played like that.
“We played with some confidence tonight. I saw some guys in the dugout having some fun and enjoying success with their teammates. That is what we have to do, no matter how many games we have left to play.”
VU actually got on the scoreboard first on Friday night with a solo shot to right by Mike Yastrzemski in the opening frame, but the Vols got the tally right back thanks to a two-out rally in the home half of the inning. Davis Morgan got the ball rolling with a five-pitch walk before Steckenrider brought him home all the way from first with a double high off the wall in right-center.
The Commodores regained the lead in the very next stanza, however, as Jack Lupo came through with a two-out RBI single through the left side to make it 2-1.
Tennessee had a chance to even the score in the fourth inning, putting a runner on third with just one out after a leadoff double by Steckenrider and a groundout, but couldn't cash in. The next batter hit a sharp groundball to short and Steckenrider took off on contact. Unfortunately a perfect throw to the plate gunned him down for the second out and a flyball two batters later ended the frame.
The Vols exploded for three runs in each of the next two innings though, grabbing a 7-2 lead in the process. With one out in the fifth, Will Maddox reached on a hit by pitch and promptly stole second on the first pitch to Zach Osborne. Osborne then ripped a double to right-center to tie the contest at 2-2.
That would end VU starter T.J. Percoraro's night and Steckenrider greeted Commodore reliever Brian Miller with his third double of the evening, plating Osborne from second. Just two pitches later, Chris Pierce punched a single to center to drive in the third run of the inning.
Leading 4-2, the Vols were not satisfied and quickly added three more to the scoreboard in the sixth. After a leadoff HBP by Chris Fritts, Bennett launched a two-run home run on to "The Porch" in left.
The next three batters then reached base as Parker Wormsley singled to left, Maddox laid down a bunt single and Osborne reached on a sac bunt thanks to a throwing error by Miller. With the bases loaded and one out after a strikeout, Steckenrider drove in his third run of the contest with a groundout to short which put Tennessee up by a commanding 7-2 score.
The Vols finished off the scoring with another run in the eighth as Morgan and Steckenrider ripped two-out doubles on back-to-back pitches to put the tally on the scoreboard at 8-2.
Tennessee head men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin got the day off to a good start, firing in the ceremonial first pitch before the contest.
The Big Orange will go for the series win at 1 p.m. on Saturday when they will send freshman Robbie Kidd (2-2, 5.01) to the mound. The Commodores will counter with a freshman of their own in Tyler Beede (1-4, 4.18). The contest will be televised on CSS with Mike Morgan and former Vol Rusty Ensor on the call.
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