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February 18, 2012

Vols' starters dominate, lead team to 3-0 start

Tennessee outfielder Chris Pierce made clear he doesn't want anyone running on him. Pitcher Nick Blount, the beneficiary of Pierce's highlight play from the outfield, could have forewarned Northern Illinois of the risks in such a play.

"The man can play any position. Last year he was catching some, got on the mound a few times. He has a cannon," said Blount, who helped UT starters work 12 scoreless innings on the weekend. "He has the best arm from a position player on our team by far."

Trying to scamper from first to third on Blount's errant pickoff attempt, Brett Frantini was easily erased during the third inning of a scoreless game Saturday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Moments later, the Vols scored twice in their half of the inning and gradually pulled away for a 7-2 win and three-game sweep. Tennessee (3-0) won Saturday's opening game of the twin bill, 10-5, behind Zack Godley on the mound.

"That's what we work on, back up that throw. I barehanded it and was able to get him out on like three hops. He was out by a good bit," said Pierce, 2-for-4 with three RBIs in the finale. "That's just what we work on and I was backing it up. I was in the right place at the right time.

"For sure. I don't want anybody running on me, just like anybody else on the team. So that's definitely something I take pride in."

The Vols' starters took pride in sustaining their scoreless streak, initiated Friday night when junior righty Drew Steckenrider was overpowering. Blount and Godley followed up during Saturday's doubleheader, necessitated by forecast inclement weather Sunday, by combining for eight innings pitched, nine hits, no walks and three strikeouts. The duo faced just 30 combined batters and threw 107 pitches.

"It was a good thing. After (Friday) night, we came out today and I thought we minimized our free passes. I was proud of the way we played," said coach Dave Serrano, who helped the Vols start 3-0 for just the second time since 2005. "Doubleheaders are hard to sweep, no matter who you're playing.

"We have a lot to get back to. Get back to the drawing board and fix."

Centerfielder Chris Fritts was the offensive star in Saturday's opener, driving in six runs and belting his first homer of the season. Catcher Wes Walker was 1-for-1 in the game and drove in two runs. Pierce's big day included four hits in eight at-bats, including a double and a triple. Steckenrider continued his torrid play at the plate, finishing the weekend 5-for-8 with four walks. Leadoff man Zach Luther was 4-for-10 on Saturday's games.

"It's huge, because we don't have a superstar. That's OK. I'm fine with that," Serrano said of the Vols' balanced attack. "We're going to have to have different stars each and every night."

Stars at the plate won't have to do too much if UT's starters can build on their impressive opening weekend.

"That's pretty cool, isn't it?," Blount asked reporters of the 12 shutout innings. "It's nice. I'm just glad we got the 'W.'"

Added Pierce, "That's great. Whenever you can go out there and have a shutout performance on the mound, and they went 12-for-12 and could have been more if we had had some more innings on them. It was great to see them do that."

Tennessee returns to action Tuesday as it hosts Western Kentucky at 3 p.m. The Vols entertain Seton Hall in a three-game set beginning Friday at 4 p.m.


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