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March 9, 2012

Divine pitching, Bennett blast key UT win

He barely even used his slider.

Zack Godley is in such a groove right now, Tennessee coach Dave Serrano explained Friday night, that Godley is tormenting opposing hitters in a variety of methods.

Apparently on this career night, the powerful 6-foot-3, 245-pounder didn't even need all of his repertoire.

"It's a lot of fun to be able to pitch right now," said Godley. "My changeup is working for me right now; I'm throwing it for a strike. I'm sticking my curveball in there, too. We didn't go with the slider that much tonight, but almost every pitch he called I was sticking it close to the zone pretty much every time. IT's fun to be able to do that. It's fun to have that feel."

The biggest thing Godley did against visiting Louisiana-Monroe in the opener of the Vols' final weekend series before initiating SEC play next weekend was simply to dominate the Warhawks' lineup. Tennessee's junior right-hander fanned a career-high 10 batters in a career-high eight innings of work with a career-high 113 pitches, and Tennessee got a key Ethan Bennett home run to spur a 4-0 win.

Godley threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of 30 batters faced and struck out two or more ULM hitters in three different innings. He was nearly matched pitch for pitch by the Warhawks' Randy Zeigler, who fanned 11 Vols and didn't give up a run until Bennett's deep blast beyond the left-field bleachers with two outs in the seventh.

"That's the secret to success in pitching. It's first-pitch strikes and when you get count-leverage, you stretch the zone. That's what he's been doing," Serrano said of Godley, in line to start UT's SEC-opener next Friday at Georgia. "That's the biggest thing that Zack has changed, is that he's under control now. He knows what he's doing with the pitches. He's actually pitching.

"It's fun to call a game for him because he can do three or four things to a hitter to keep them off-balance. He's establishing his fastball, his change and his breaking ball. He's doing it with his fastball on both sides of the plate and it makes it easier to be successful that way."

Though he has been hampered by a nagging wrist injury that has defied a simple medical explanation, Bennett was clutch both at and behind the plate as Tennessee improved to 10-3. Bennett missed much of the close of pre-season camp with the injury and gradually worked his way back into the Vols' everyday lineup.

"Starting out, I was 0-for-2 with two Ks. I'd been swinging first pitch usually and I just kind of stuck with it," said Bennett, who noted various medical tests had both shown and not shown a fracture in the wrist. "Ended up getting it right this time. It happened."

The Vols added three insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, despite not recording a hit in the frame. ULM (9-6) committed two errors, and UT also got a sublimely executed squeeze bunt from Chris Fritts to score Chris Pierce.

It was more than enough cushion for closer Nick Williams, who regrouped from a shaky save effort in Wednesday's win against Ball State when he struck out the side on just 16 pitches. The Godley-Williams combo teamed for 13 strikeouts and tossed first-pitch strikes to 23 of 33 batters.

"It's awesome. I agree with every pitch coach is calling, and I know Godley is going to go up there and just pound, pound, pound," Bennett said. "It's going to be good. Coming out every day he's throwing, it's just like 'Here we go.'

"Nick's got a lot of confidence and we can trust him, too. I've been playing with him since I was 4 years old. I always trust him."

The way the ballgame unfolded was a good preview for what Serrano expects league play to hold moving forward, the Vols' first-year coach said.

"That's what you kind of want and that's what's going to happen as we move on in Friday nights now, is we're going to have these kinds of pitching duels," Serrano said. "Because every team we play from here on out is going to have a good Friday guy. And not saying Drew (Steckenrider) is not a good Friday guy because I think Drew will fit into a different role on this pitching staff that might help us even more down the line."

Tennessee will send right-hander Nick Blount (2-1, 4.08) to the mound Saturday against ULM's Andrew Richardson (0-1, 3.06).


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