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February 25, 2012

Dramatic win gives Vols second-best start

For what it's worth, Drew Steckenrider had the green light.

It wasn't needed. Tennessee's do-it-all slugger watched ball four skid past him in the dirt, and Chris Pierce, whose one-out walk had revived the Vols, scooted home on Seton Hall pitcher Ryan Harvey's third-straight wild pitch as Tennessee won, 3-2.

"We know it's never going to be perfect. It's never going to be easy. But they're committed to playing for each other and playing for this team each and every day." - Dave Serrano

The dramatic, come-from-behind victory --- the Vols' second in five days --- helped Dave Serrano's first UT squad improve to 6-0, the second-best start in school history.

"I guess as soon as I saw it get by him, you always take the first couple of hard steps and then you get a read on those first few steps. After that, I just went hard and threw a slide down to be safe," said Pierce, who scored his team-best 10th run for the win. "Kind of [thought Steckenrider might get walked after a 3-0 count]. I was more thinking of, because we gave Steck the green light there, so I was thinking he's going to hit something here. But yeah, that would have been a better idea, I figure, to walk him, huh?"

Despite season-lows for hits (5) and baserunners (9), as well as a season-worst five errors, the game was hardly without dramatics or superlative performances. Both Seton Hall's and Tennessee's coaching staffs had to be separated between the eighth and ninth innings when some apparent trash-talking from the Pirates' dugout was directed at UT hitting coach Greg Bergeron.

There were no ejections, but the head-to-head confrontation escalated before umpires at last squelched the situation.

"Well, it was a situation where coach Bergie was coming across the field and one of their players said something that was disrespectful to him. He never said a word to them; he just stared them down," said Serrano, who also said he'd never had a game end in such a bizarre manner. "Their assistant had a bad reaction to him. They got into it, and as I always do just like with my players, I'm going to protect my assistant coach. And it got a little heated. Me and coach (Bob) Sheppard talked about I after the game. I apologized to him. He apologized to me. It was just the heat of the moment, an emotional time. We'll move on from there."

The verbal fireworks preceded Nick Williams' entrance for the Vols, and Seton Hall couldn't move on against the Tennessee right-hander. The former Farragut standout overmatched the Pirates' hitters, allowing just one infield single and striking out two of the eight batters he faced to earn the win. Williams hasn't allowed an earned run through his first three appearances.

Equally stout was starter Zack Godley, who worked a season-high six innings for any Vols starter and fanned a career-best seven.

"Coach has had us on a good throwing program and has worked a lot with us. I like the way he's doing us with us set innings and pitch counts and I'm just really happy to come away with the win," said Godley, who's allowed one earned run in 10 innings this season. "It's always big [to win that type of game], just like we've already gone through this once with the 13-inning game earlier this week. It's good to know our team is relentless and we never give up and pursue the win all the time. It's good to have a group of guys behind me and even in the dugout, we're always into all the time no matter how long the game goes."

Carter Watson worked out of a potentially disastrous bases-loaded situation in the seventh, committing the error that allowed the Pirates' Giuseppe Papaccio to score the go-ahead run but then overcoming a 3-0 count on cleanup hitter Dale Anderson to skirt further damage.

"There's a lot of situations in that game that we were able to overcome. I don't want to go unnoticed, I think Zack Godley threw fabulous for the six innings he pitched. Carter Watson, very similar to the situation last Tuesday night with (Dalton) Saberhagen in the bases-loaded situation, walked the guy but was able to get back and win that situation," Serrano said. "We all know he's not trying to make the error on that play, they score the go-ahead run, he goes 3-0 on the next guy and is able to win the next three pitches, which probably allowed us to go 11 innings and win the game like we did."

The UT coaches' reaction to stick up for one another and their players, as well as how the Vols were able to win despite their various miscues, said Pierce, was key.

"It's nice to get a win like this, obviously, but I think the biggest thing we got out of it is that we need to tighten some things up," Pierce said. "The five errors weren't our best, but if we don't come to play, there's going to be teams like that that are right in it. We've got to do better.

"That always gets you fired up. I don't really know what happened over there, some jawing going on. But when a coach sticks up for you like that, it's always great. You know they've got your back."

Six games in, Serrano said he was elated with his team's attitude even more so than the unbeaten opening.

"What I've continued to learn is that this coaching staff really likes competing with these guys, and it's fun competing with them," Serrano said. "It's getting funner, and I would have said that to you and them whether we had won or lost that game. They are in to every pitch. They're involved. We know it's never going to be perfect. It's never going to be easy. But they're committed to playing for each other and playing for this team each and every day."

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