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February 22, 2013

Bats fail in Vols' home-opening loss

Don't lean into a pitch. But don't lean out, either.

Thus is the margin for error for Tennessee baseball coach Dave Serrano: enlisting a lineup with eight first-year players in his Volunteers' program, Serrano already was back teaching on the heels of his team's 4-0, home-opening loss to No. 20 Arizona State Friday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

The Vols, who threatened in the fourth and ninth innings but stranded six baserunners on the night, mustered just three hits against Sun Devils ace Trevor Williams and never scratched against reliever Brett Lilek in two innings.

"It's all the stuff that that's our job as a coaching staff. That's why we're being a little more diligent after games of covering those kind of things. Some of our guys were getting out of the way, moving their feet late in the game when we're trying to find baserunners," said Serrano, entering his second year at the helm. "We're not going to get hit intentionally, but we're not going to get out the way intentionally, either. All little things that we need to keep learning as a team. They're getting valuable experience right now. We can understand a mistake. We just don't want repeated mistakes."

Tennessee (1-4) showed progress, particularly staff ace Zack Godley, from a week ago when it opened the season in a loss at UNVL. A senior right-hander, Godley fanned nine batters and scattered four hits, but he walked four, hit another Sun Devil and yielded a pivotal three-run home run to ASU right fielder Trever Allen.

"I threw a good curveball," Godley said of the fifth-inning pitch, which broke open a 1-0 contest. "It was down. It looked like he was expecting it. I don't know if I had tipped the pitch or not, but it looked like he was on it and he squared it. It wasn't too bad. Still could have been better. Have to cut down on my walks. Walked five people and that's not acceptable in seven innings."

With an extremely overhauled roster, the youthful Vols continued their fresh-faced approach in the home opener with again the use of several freshmen. Tennessee's entire starting outfield was comprised of rookies, and it also featured newcomers at shortstop, catcher and designated hitter.

Tennessee freshman shortstop A.J. Simcox was cut down at the plate in the fourth inning on a first-and-third hit-and-run, and the Vols stranded the bases loaded in the ninth when freshman Christin Stewart grounded out unassisted to first base.

But Stewart, who had battled deep into the count, said these contests were exactly what Tennessee must confront as it rebuilds under Serrano, who owns three previous College World Series berths.

"It makes us a lot better," Stewart said of the Vols' tough early-season opposition. "Coach Serrano, and I'm pretty sure he told you all this already, but he scheduled our first out of SEC games really tough games. UNLV, Arizona State. Arizona State is ranked 20th in the nation right now. We need to play the best to eventually try and be the best."

Williams, who like Godley was on Serrano's USA Baseball collegiate national team last summer, looked among the nation's best on this night. The junior righty fanned eight Vols, walked just one and threw 89 pitches in his seven innings of work. Williams repeatedly got ahead of UT's hitters, something Serrano pointed to as pivotal in the Vols' first home-opening loss since 1999.

"That was a typical SEC Friday night game right there. Both guys locked up. I think the difference in the game was the fact that Trevor Williams, who was lights-out, was probably only ball one on two of our hitters in his seven innings of work," Serrano explained. "I think that was the difference. He's already got good stuff. Godley did battle. Too many free passes, four talks and one hit batter, but he did battle through some things. …

"You've got to tip your cap where it needs to be tipped, and their pitching outdueled us."

Saturday's matchup is slated to feature Vols right-handed rookie Aaron Quillen (0-0, 1.80 ERA) opposite Sun Devils lefty Adam McCreery, a sophomore with a 12.0 ERA after one appearance. Sunday's projected pitching matchup is Tennessee's Andy Cox, a rookie with a 1-0 record and 4.50 ERA, opposite another ASU left-hander, Ryan Kellogg. Both weekend tilts have scheduled 1 p.m. first pitch starts.

Additionally, Serrano noted that power-hitting Vols catcher Ethan Bennett, from nearby Farragut High School, would make his debut this weekend after recovering from a pre-season injury.

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