Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) For the second time this season Taylor Smart came up to the plate with a runner in scoring position in extra innings, and for the second time this season Smart delivered.
With runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the 12th inning against Austin Peay, Smart ripped a shot through the left side scoring pinch runner Will Maddox, who entered the game one at-bat earlier replacing Jordan Rodgers who started off the 12th getting hit by a pitch on the first pitch of the inning.
The Vols put the hit-and-run on the first pitch of the at bat, drawing the short stop out of position and allowing the ball to get through the left side for the win.
With the walk-off victory, the 14th ranked Vols matched the best start in school history improving to 18-2 on the season a feat only achieved three other times in the 105 year history of the program (1951, 1997, 2004). Austin Peay fell to 8-11 on the year.
"Well I guess the only thing I can say is that was our 18th win,” said head coach Dave Serrano. “I am proud of the guys for what they are able to accomplish. We are winning ugly right now. There are some things we have to clean up as we continue to make our trek through the SEC but I can't be disappointed in these guys because it is never going to be perfect what we do, but they are finding ways to win.
"They have played 20 games and they have been able to come out on top in 18 of them, I commend our guys for that."
Smart, the hero once again, was 2-for-5 on the night with a walk, a run scored and the game-winning RBI. Scott Price was 3-for-5 on the night with two doubles and two RBIs for the Vols while Johnny Youngblood (2-for-3, 2 runs) and Nick Senzel (2-for-4, 1 run, 1 RBI) also had multi-hit games for Tennessee.
Kyle Serrano got the start on the mound for the Vols pitching 5.0 innings, allowing five runs on five hits and striking out six, the most of his young career.
Five Vols came on in relief of Serrano including Josh Peterson who earned the win for UT, his second of the season. Tennessee's pitching corps combined for 15 strikeouts on the night, a season high and the most since fanning 15 vs. Furman on Feb. 25, 2008.
The Vols put up five runs through the first three innings of the game and have now tallied 57 of their 137 runs this season in the first three stanzas.
The Vols got on top first thanks to the legs of Youngblood. Youngblood, in his second career start, got the first hit of the day for the Vols laying down the bunt to third base. He moved up to second on a stolen base and took off on a hit and run executed by Senzel, coming around to score on an infield single to give UT a 1-0 advantage.
The Vols added to their lead in the second inning. Andrew Lee was the first runner on for UT drawing a walk on seven pitches. He advanced on a ground out by Tyler Schultz and was joined on the basepaths by Smart who forced an eight-pitch walk. With a 2-2 count, Price laced a shot down the right field line and into the corner to score Lee and Smart and give the Vols a 3-0 lead. The runs were the 22nd and 23rd tallied by the Vols in the second inning this season.
Senzel got on the basepaths for the Vols in the third with a single up the middle, his second of the day. While on base he nabbed second and third for his second and third stolen bases on the day, an individual game-high for the Vols. Austin Peay walked the next two batters to load the bases for Schultz. With an 0-2 count on Schultz and two outs, APSU reliever Alex Belew allowed two runs to score on two wild pitches to give the Vols a 5-0 lead.
The Austin Peay bats came alive in the top of the fourth as the Governors used four hits to record five runs and tie the game up.
But the Vols got back on track in the bottom half of the frame when Youngblood notched his second infield single of the game coming home on a bomb to right field by Stewart one batter later. The home run was Stewart's third of the season and first since March 4 vs. La Salle.
Austin Peay once again made it a one run game in the top of the seventh inning scoring on a wild pitch and tied things up in the top of the ninth inning sending a single through the right side with one out to even the score at seven. Andy Cox, in his 12th appearance of the season, registered the first blown save of his career in the ninth inning.
Tennessee brought in Drake Owenby and Peterson during the extra innings in relief as they combined to allow just one hit in three innings.
The Vols are back in action in their SEC home opener this weekend against Auburn. First pitch on Friday, March 21 is scheduled for 6 p.m.