MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (release) -- The No. 17 Tennessee baseball team blanked Middle Tennessee 2-0 on Tuesday night in Murfreesboro, picking up its third shutout of the season and snapping a five-game skid to the Blue Raiders.
Improving to 15-1 on the season, the Vols used two beautifully-placed bunt singles to help plate both runs in the top of the third inning. Tennessee held the Blue Raiders (5-10) to just five hits in the contest.
"It's good to be able to come out on top in these close games," said head coach Dave Serrano. "It's teaching us how to win. We've had a lot of travel over the last few days and we just weren't on it offensively. You have to give [Middle Tennessee] credit, they threw strikes, but we didn't swing it too well.
"The pitchers picked up the offense today and that's what this team has done. The offense has picked up the pitchers many times and tonight it was about the pitchers. We put a lot of guys out there and none of them were perfect, but they pitched well enough for us to shut them out and win 2-0."
Senior third baseman Taylor Smart led the Vols with a 2-for-4 performance at the plate, scoring a run and notching a stolen base. Smart also finished the game with three stellar assists on the hot corner. Sophomores Christin Stewart and A.J. Simcox also posted 2-for-4 games, while Scott Price, Vincent Jackson and David Houser all finished with base knocks.
The Blue Raiders threatened in the second inning as they loaded the bases off a leadoff double, a walk and a hit by pitch. But Tennessee starter Drake Owenby was able to deal out of a one-out jam with a swinging strikeout and a 6-4 groundout between Simcox and Maddox.
Tennessee followed by loading the bags in the third frame off three-straight singles, including two bunts down the third baseline by Price and Simcox. Maddox grounded out to plate the game's first run, scoring Smart, who chopped a single down the left field line. After Nick Senzel - the reigning SEC Player of the Week - was hit by a pitch to reload the bases, Jackson sent a sac fly to center field to score Price and put UT on top 2-0. Stewart struck out to end the threat with two on. UT left 10 on base in the game.
The Vols' bullpen went to work from there, as junior college transfer Peter Lenstrohm came in to throw the next three frames. He hit his first batter and gave up a double in the third, but with help from Houser - who gunned down an attempted base stealer at second - Lenstrohm was able to get out of the frame unscathed. The Paradise Valley, Ariz., native would retire seven of his last eight batters, getting the Vols through the fifth inning. Lenstrohm was awarded the win - his first as a Vol.
Trevor Bettencourt, Josh Peterson and Andrew Lee each tossed a scoreless inning with a strikeout, allowing a combined two hits.
Sophomore southpaw and Arlington, Tenn., native Andy Cox came in to throw the ninth for UT and immediately sat the first two Blue Raiders he faced down on strikes. Cox, looking for his second save of the season, made things interesting by giving up back-to-back walks to bring the game-winning run to the plate. Cox battled back to strikeout MTSU pinch hitter Andrew Cash, picking up his team-leading 22nd strikeout of the season and ending the five-game losing streak. Cox has lowered his ERA to 0.72, while making a team-high 10 appearances.
The Big Orange opens Southeastern Conference play this week, traveling to Columbia, Mo., for the first time in program history. The Vols will play Missouri from March 14-16, with Friday's first pitch set for 7 p.m. ET.
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