KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- Tennessee stranded 12 runners, including 10 in scoring position and No. 4 Florida got a pair of run-scoring doubles in the fifth inning to claim the series opener, 3-1, in front of 3,401 Orange and White faithful, the 12th-largest crowd in school history, on Friday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Junior Zack Godley suffered the tough-luck loss for the Volunteers after allowing just three runs and scattering nine hits in seven strong innings. Jonathon Crawford picked up the win for the Gators, yielding a single run on six hits in five frames. Austin Maddox worked the final two innings to collect his 10th save of the year.
“I thought (Zack) threw well,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “I thought he threw really well. (Florida) is a great baseball team, a great offensive team in my opinion. So when you hold them to three runs it gives us a chance to win. He threw some pitches that I can look at myself. We threw a first-pitch change that gets hit down the line for a double, we throw a first-pitch curveball that a guy gets a hit on. He threw some good pitches, they put some good swings on it. The difference was they put some good swings on pitches and we didn’t.
“I want to continue to thank our fans for continuing to support us. Hopefully they saw something today that will bring them back out. It was very encouraging to see the student section filled. I hope we continue to be a good baseball program and team so that we can continue to have this support.”
Will Maddox, Chris Fritts and Chris Pierce each had two hits for the Big Orange which matched Florida's total of nine on the night. Drew Steckenrider continued his strong work out of the bullpen, retiring six of the seven batters he faced in two innings of action.
Florida had a golden opportunity to take the early lead in the second inning, loading the bases with nobody out with three straight singles. Godley buckled down though, getting a strikeout, pop-up to the shortstop in shallow center and a groundout to third to escape unscathed.
The Vols took advantage of Godley's strong finish and used an RBI single from Maddox to take the early lead in the home half of the inning. Pierce opened the frame with a single to right and moved up to third on a sac bunt and stolen base before Maddox came through with a clutch two-out, two-strike base hit to center to bring him home.
Florida knotted it up at 1-1 with an RBI single by Brian Johnson in the top of the fourth before a pair of run-scoring doubles by Mike Zunino and Nolan Fontana in the fifth inning put the Gators up 3-1.
Tennessee almost tied it up in the sixth, but got a tough lesson that baseball is a game of inches instead. With the bases loaded and two outs, Maddox ripped a 1-2 pitch down the first-base line. The Vols thought it was fair, but first-base umpire Ken Couch ruled the potential game-tying extra-base hit just foul and Maddox went down swinging on the next offering to end the frame.
“I don’t think any one person on the field can win or lose a game,” Serrano said. “I asked (Couch) and he gave me his word of what he saw and he wasn’t going to change the call so there was no reason to argue it. I don’t pinpoint that. We didn’t do enough as a team to win tonight’s game. It had nothing to do with whether the ball was fair or foul.”
The Orange and White escaped another jam in the top of the eighth as Steckenrider came out of the bullpen with runners on first and second and nobody out. He retired the first two batters he faced before intentionally walking a batter to load the bases. He then promptly picked him off with a fake-to-third, back-to-first move to end the inning.
Fritts led off the home half of the stanza with a single to right, but Maddox came on to strike out the next batter before Pierce roped a double down the left-field line to put two in scoring position with just one out. Maddox kept UT off the board though, getting another punchout before Gator third baseman Cody Dent made a great diving play for the third out.
The Vols got a leadoff double from Maddox in the bottom of the ninth, but a strikeout and two flyball outs brought the contest to a close.
Tennessee and Florida will battle it out in game two at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Junior southpaw T.J. Thornton (0-0, 4.25) will get the ball for the Vols while the Gators will counter with sophomore righthander Karsten Whitson (1-0, 4.70). The game will be televised on SportSouth with Dave Neal and Larry Conley on the call.
“We will show up tomorrow just like if we won or we didn’t,” Serrano said. “We will have to put our best foot forward. We have won games in the opening series and then we have lost the next two. Maybe we can reverse that and win the next two. My goal is to win the first pitch of the game. I’m not worried about the first game, I am worried about the first pitch of tomorrow’s game.”
For the most up-to-date information about the Tennessee baseball program, visit UTSports.com/baseball and follow @Vol_Baseball on Twitter. To purchase tickets, visit UTTix.com.
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