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Vols start in style, punish Purdue

Purdue, like many college baseball programs that play in the Midwest or Northeast, wasn’t able to practice outdoors this preseason.

Tennessee freshman pitcher Kyle Serrano (UT photo)

After Sunday, the Boilermakers might want to go back inside for a bit.

Tennessee opened its third season under Coach Dave Serrano in style, sweeping Purdue in a double-header at Lindsey Nelson Stadium and bashing the Boilermakers in the nightcap.

After allowing only one hit in a 3-0, Game One win, the Vols pounded Purdue, 20-2, in Game Two.

“The first game was a well-pitched game, and we scrapped off enough runs off their starting pitcher, who I thought was tough,” Serrano said. “And then the second game became an offensive onslaught by our guys. That’s what I saw back in the fall. I saw that our guys can score a lot of runs.

“We were a little sloppy early with some fly balls, but we we started hitting the top half of the baseball, we started to put some big innings together.”

Obviously offense told the story in Game Two — 20 runs on 23 hits tells a heck of a story — but Serrano was thrilled with a bullpen that didn’t allow a single run in 10 innings.

Senior Nick Williams threw five shutout innings in relief of freshman starter Hunter Martin in Game One before handing the ball to sophomore southpaw Drake Owenby for the save, and sophomores Andy Cox and Trevor Bettencourt split four shutout innings in relief of highly touted freshman starter Kyle Serrano in Game Two.

“Our bullpen did fabulous jobs coming in,” Serrano said. “I said from the get-go that I thought we were gonna be strong in the bullpen, and we still didn’t even use some guys that we have for tomorrow. I thought our relief guys did an excellent job.”

Vols sophomore OF Christin Stewart (UT photo)

Kyle Serrano — Dave’s son, who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies out of Knox County’s Farragut High School but chose to play for his father — wasn’t as polished as he and Dave expected in his highly anticipated debut, but he surrendered just two runs in five innings and did well to clean up a few messes he caused by walking and hitting batters.

“I definitely was not good enough today,” Kyle Serrano said. “I’ve definitely got to throw more strikes and get my emotions under control. If I would have just stayed under control, I thought I had good stuff tonight. I warmed up really good, but when I went out there I just ... you know, first start. I had a little too much adrenaline in me.

“But it was definitely nice to get that first win out of the way. I feel like it’ll be a little bit easier — not a lot easier, but a little bit easier — going into (my next start) against UNLV next weekend.”

It wasn’t the prettiest five innings, but Kyle Serrano’s first start ended with his first career win. And he just needed to get to five innings to earn that win, because the Vols had a 19-2 lead by the sixth.

“We’re a tough offense, and I know that because I had to deal with it all fall, and in the winter,” said Dave Serrano, who also serves as Tennessee’s pitching coach. “We’re gonna make some teams pay if they make some mistakes. Good pitching always shuts down good hitting, or at least a lot, but we’re gonna make some teams pay if they can’t keep running arms out there at us. And I think we showed a little bit of the signs of that today.

“I’m just proud of the guys. It was a long day. First day, long day, and they stayed involved for 18 innings. There was a lot of positive energy coming out of that dugout. I think this team realizes what I’ve been saying for a long time — we have a chance to be good. But we’ve still got to prove it.”

Sophomore Christin Stewart — one-third of a talented outfield that also includes senior Scott Price and sophomore Vincent Jackson — led the Vols’ offense in Game Two, going 4-for-5 with a triple, a double, two singles and five RBI.

Needing a home run in his final at-bat to complete a cycle, Stewart took a couple of big hacks — though he laughingly insisted he wasn’t swinging for the fences — before punching a two-strike, opposite-field single into left field.

Vols coach Dave Serrano (UT photo)

Price (2-for-3, two RBI), sophomore catcher David Houser (3-for-4, three RBI), senior third baseman Taylor Smart (3-for-4, two RBI) and senior outfielder Pierce Biley (2-for-2 in two at-bats off the bench) also had multi-hit games for the Vols in the nightcap.

“We were really excited today. I mean, the first game of the season is always a little intense,” Stewart said. “But we just had to calm down and focus and put good passes on the ball.”

Stewart agreed with his coach, suggesting that the drastic offensive improvement in Game Two happened more because of Tennessee’s adjustments than Purdue’s lack of quality pitching depth.

“All that, like, energy we had going into today, we just had to calm down within ourselves and just do what we do and drive the ball,” Stewart said.

The Vols weren’t nearly as explosive in the opener, scoring just three times — on an RBI double from freshman designated hitter Nick Senzel and RBI single from Houser gave them two runs in the third, and on an opposite-field, RBI double off the left-field wall by Stewart in the sixth — but they didn’t need much in that game, either.

After Martin needed 44 pitches to somewhat labor through the first three innings, Williams was very efficient out of the pen, needing just 48 pitches to get through five hitless innings.

Williams, who was initially scheduled to start a game when the Vols were going to play four times this weekend, allowed just two base-runners on a pair of walks.

“I’ve had experiences like that (in close games) in the past, so we try to put ourselves in that position every time we go out there in practice,” Williams said. “We’ve got a great offense, so being able to throw against another offense, honestly it was easy. I was getting a lot of first-pitch swings, so that was the big thing that was working for me —being able to establish a strike first pitch, and them swinging at it.”

Vols senior OF Scott Price (UT photo)

Tall, sophomore right-hander Andrew Lee — an East Tennessee native who wasn’t allowed to pitch last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery — will start for the Vols in Monday’s 4 p.m. Game Three.

“I think the biggest game of the year might be tomorrow,” Dave Serrano said. “When you win a game so lopsided like we did tonight, tomorrow’s a mentality day, a discipline day. The game’s not gonna be easy.

“Purdue has some pride, and they’re gonna come out to try and sniper us.”

According to Stewart, though, the Vols will be ready for that.

“The way we hit tonight was really good. We’ve just got to carry that on,” Stewart said. “I know Coach Serrano tells you a lot, but the pieces are there this year. They’re there. We’re gonna do some great things for this university. I really believe that.”

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