KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) - No. 4 Florida scored early and often on Sunday, pouncing on Tennessee for eight runs over the first four innings en route to an 8-1 victory in front of 3,332 Orange and White faithful at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“I hope everyone can tell that I am a competitor and I don’t like losing, but I walk away with a different feeling today,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “We just got beat. We couldn’t get it stopped early. Our starting pitching wasn’t what I expected it to be with Nick Williams and he didn’t come out sharp. We got beat and this team has a hard time coming back from deficits. We didn’t have the firepower to do that today. We did it against Alabama, but that is a very good team over there and we can’t give them a four-run lead.
“I am proud of the guys we brought out of the bullpen, we fought to get a run, and we got it in the last inning, and we made some spectacular (defensive) plays. There is no quit. I can’t walk away happy that we lost, but I am proud that we continued to compete for nine innings. That is all we ask our guys to do.”
Sunday's crowd put the weekend attendance total at 9,561, the second-highest mark for a home series in school history behind only the 11,280 that saw UT play the Gators during the 1994 campaign.
“It was part of my dream when I came back here to bring back the atmosphere and excitement to this stadium,” Serrano said. “It is here. I continue to credit the fans and I want to reiterate to them that we are going to get this thing going. I have all the confidence in the world in my players and my coaching staff. They are going to be proud that they have supported us.”
Sophomore southpaw Dalton Saberhagen saw action for the second straight day, posting three shutout innings out of the bullpen. He retired the first seven hitters he faced and nine of 10 total. For the weekend, he allowed just two hits in 4.2 scoreless innings against the Gators.
Freshman Conner Stevens faced just one over the minimum in his two innings of work, striking out two. UT starter sophomore Nick Williams (2-4) suffered the loss as he yielded five runs on four hits in 1.1 innings.
“(Dalton) was great, he kept them off balance like he does and he threw strikes,” Serrano said. “Then we brought in young Conner Stevens who does a good job and throws strikes. We are going to need those guys to continue to step up. We are going to need to continue to get deeper in our pitching, especially where I anticipate us going.”
The UT offense managed just seven hits, all singles, on the day against Florida starting pitcher Brian Johnson and five Gator relievers. Johnson improved to 5-1 on the season, scattering six hits in six scoreless frames.
Will Maddox drove in UT's only run of the game with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth. Drew Steckenrider was the only Vol with multiple hits as he was 2-for-3 with a walk. As a team, Tennessee was 1-for-17 with runners on base, getting only Maddox's base-knock in the ninth.
The Gators pounced on the Vols for four runs in the top of the first, getting a bases-loaded double from Brian Johnson and a sacrifice fly by Justin Shafer. UF then tacked on another run in the top of the second, which Vickash Ramjit led off with a solo home run to left to put Tennessee in a 5-0 hole.
The runs kept coming for Florida in the next two innings as a fielding error led to an unearned run in the third before an RBI single by Cody Dent and sac fly by Casey Turgeon in the fourth put the Gators ahead by a commanding 8-0 count.
With Saberhagen and Stevens holding Florida off the scoreboard, Tennessee got leadoff singles in both the fifth and sixth innings, but couldn't cash in either time. A one-out walk, followed by a hit batter and a groundout gave the Vols another scoring opportunity in the eighth with two runners in scoring position, but UF reliever Bobby Poyner came on to get a groundout to first to keep the shutout intact.
The Vols finally got on the board in the ninth as Chris Pierce was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame and moved up to second on a groundout by pinch-hitter Hunter Daniel. Maddox then drove him in from second with a two-out single to right for UT's only run of the game.
Tennessee will return to the diamond at 7 p.m. on Tuesday when it hosts ETSU.