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February 24, 2012

Serrano's Vols race to first 5-0 start since '03

The 5-0 start courtesy of a commanding 9-2 win against Big East resident Seton Hall Friday evening at Lindsey Nelson Stadium was merely a part of the Tennessee baseball message first-year coach Dave Serrano is trying to send.

The Volunteers' skipper wants his team to be a little greedy; anything but complacent.

"I told the team again tonight, I want them to be proud of what we've accomplished so far. We're 5-0. But don't be satisfied," Serrano said. "We still have things we can work on. We're overcoming ourselves. We're showing some toughness as a team. That when things get tough and we're not on it, we're able to overcome it and find a way to get it done.

"The thing I told them is the thing I will get disappointed is if we get bored with success. We can't have enough success. We realize we have to get better every day, and we can't get bored with what we're doing. I don't care what the scoreboard says. Id on't care what our record is. This coaching staff will never let our team be satisfied with where we're at.

The brand of baseball Serrano is applying -- which now includes the program's first 5-0 start since 2003 and only the sixth in more than 100 years of the program's history --- to the Tennessee label is relentless attacking, maximizing opportunities and never letting up. It was evident in the first inning of a blustery, chilly Friday before 1,444 fans and it was there in the Vols' last at-bat, when they tacked on two insurance runs to help Robbie Kidd improve to 1-0.

Relieving starter Drew Steckenrider, who struggled with command but not at the plate where he was 2-for-3 with two runs and scored and two walks, Kidd worked four-plus innings of one-run ball. Kidd, with a scant 1.93 ERA, didn't allow a hit until the eighth after entering to open the fourth and permitted just three baserunners.

"I expected Drew to go longer, to be honest, but (Serrano) told me I was going in next inning and to hurry up. I was in the bullpen and was pretty cold. I came in just wanting to throw the ball over the plate," said Kidd, who has worked 9 1/3 innings and allowed just six hits in those three appearances. "I didn't have my best stuff today, but I just wanted to keep them off-balance. Let them hit the ball, hit weak groundballs and let my defense do the work.

"I didn't have my best stuff, but I felt like I had good command today. I feel like I've bought into coach Serrano's pitching coaching. Throwing strikes. It works. Pitching to contact works rather than trying to strike everyone out."

Meanwhile, the Vols' offense was almost routinely adding to the team's lead from the second inning on. Tennessee scored in six of its eight trips to the plate, including its final five. The Vols rapped out 15 hits, elicited seven walks and kept attacking till the end.

Tennessee chased starter Jon Prosinksi after five innings, leading the Pirates (2-3) 5-1. Prosinksi, who defeated Arizona in the NCAA Tournament last season, opened this year with a win against Penn State and has a career ERA under 3.0, yielded nine hits, walked three batters, allowed the five earned runs and threw a laborious 91 pitches.

"That's our offense," said third baseman Zach Luther, who has eight hits in his first five Division I collegiate games. "Coach (Greg) Bergeron is really aggressive. Most of the time we wind up successful. … But we're always going to push the envelope on any team we face.

"I like it. It keeps you on your toes and our offense on your toes. And when you're playing defense and you see an offense like that, it kind of gets you thinking a lot and you know the other team is struggling. They put up three errors. It puts defense on their toes and their edge a little bit."

Luther closed 2-for-3 with both a run scored and driven in from his leadoff perch; Steckenrider has eight runs and eight hits in five games following his 2-for-3 effort while catcher Wes Walker was twice clutch with a single, double and two RBIs. Nine different Vols rapped out base hits, including a combined 5-for-6 outing from outfielders Chris Pierce and Chris Fritts, who also accounted for three runs scored and two RBIs.

"I made a comment to coach Mo (hitting coach Bill Mosiello) in the dugout about halfway through the game is how many free bases we're racking up as a team, whether it's hit batters, walks," Serrano said. "That's no different than hits. Yeah, everyone gets excited for balls hit over the fence but maybe we don't have that capability and we're going to have to scratch and claw for everything we get."

Tennessee continues the series Saturday at 1 p.m. The series finale has been pushed up to a noon start on Sunday in order to avoid a conflict with the Lady Vols' regular-season basketball finale against Florida.


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