Coach Dave Serrano’s young Tennessee baseball team might have started turning a corner this weekend.
UT senior pitcher Zack Godley (UT photo)
But an old, steady hand led the way this time.
Senior ace Zack Godley tossed his second shutout of the season, and the Vols got enough timely hits to earn a 5-0, series-clinching win at 13th-ranked Kentucky on Sunday in Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Vols lost a late lead in Friday’s Game One before holding on by the slimmest of margins in Game Two and taking advantage of Godley’s gem to win the series — just UT’s second SEC series win this season.
Here’s a full recap of Sunday’s game, courtesy of the UT sports information department.
GODLEY’S GEM LIFTS VOLS TO SERIES WIN AT NO. 13 KENTUCKY
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Senior Zack Godley finished off Tennessee's series win over No. 13 Kentucky with an exclamation mark, firing his second complete-game shutout of the year as the Vols took the series finale from the Wildcats, 5-0, on Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
"Great effort by Zack Godley and great effort by our team," UT head coach Dave Serrano said. "I told them after the game that I could not be more proud of them. I promised them that whether we won or lost that game I was proud of them. We'll never [completely] figure it out, but we are starting to figure it out. I'm seeing a young team start to become a team, pull for all the right things and appreciate all the right things.
"We are still going to make our mistakes, everybody does, but, boy, as a head coach and a coaching staff we are really proud of what we accomplished. This is a baby step in the direction that I want this place to go."
UT baseball coach Dave Serrano (UT photo)
Godley struck out eight, walked two, scattered six hits and stranded nine UK baserunners en route to improving to 3-4 on the year. The Bamberg, S.C., native retired the final eight Wildcats he faced, punching out three of them. His first shutout came at home against Missouri on March 22.
"That's why we call him ‘The Bull,’” Serrano said. “He is a bull. He went 130 pitches and he might have been better in the seventh, eighth and ninth than he was in the first, second and third. What he figured out was to just stay within himself, not try to overthrow, just flip that curveball in there and throw strike one. It was a really simple plan once we got the lead and he stuck to the plan.
“I could not be more proud of him and the whole team."
Helping out on the offensive side of things were a pair of outfielders, freshman Christin Stewart and junior Pierce Bily, who each finished with a two hits and two RBIs. Junior catcher Ethan Bennett added a 2-for-4 effort, including one of four doubles the Vols pounded out off of Kentucky starter Corey Littrell (4-2), who yielded all five Tennessee runs in 7 1/3 innings of work.
The series win is UT's second in SEC play this year and first on the road since sweeping a doubleheader at Alabama on April 16, 2011. With Sunday's win, the Vols improve to 16-18 overall and 5-10 in league play. The 13th-ranked Wildcats drop to 24-11 on the season and 7-8 in SEC games.
After five scoreless innings to start the game, Tennessee was the first to crack the scoreboard, putting up a three-spot in the top of the sixth. Sophomore third baseman Will Maddox took a pitch off the forearm to start the inning. While he had to be removed from the game later on because of that pitch, he stayed in the game at the time and promptly moved to second on a balk.
Freshman shortstop A.J. Simcox followed with a perfect bunt down the third-base line that went for an infield single. That put runners on the corners for Stewart, who brought them both home just three pitches later with an opposite-field double to left-center.
Tennessee added two important insurance runs in the top of the eighth to account for the game's final score. After a leadoff walk by Stewart, Bily crushed a 1-2 offering to left-center for an RBI double, scoring Stewart all the way from first. Bily then swiped third and freshman outfielder Vincent Jackson drew a free pass to put runners on the corners with nobody out.
Some heads-up baserunning allowed UT to load the bases as junior second baseman Taylor Smart laid down an attempt at a safety squeeze. The bunt was right back to the pitcher, and he flipped to the plate, but Bily retreated to third and everyone was safe. Senior Zach Luther followed with a sacrifice fly to center to give the Vols a five-run advantage.
Godley, who seemed to get stronger as the game went on, then retired the Wildcats in order in the final two innings to seal the win and series victory.
Tennessee will next be in action on Tuesday when it revives the Hokie-Smokey Classic against Virginia Tech at Pioneer Park in Greeneville, Tenn.