The pressure offense may not have been perfect.
Patience, a little bit of power and solid pitching more than made up for it for Tennessee.
The debut with Dave Serrano at the helm for the Vols wasn't without a few hiccups on Friday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. But even if it didn't exactly follow the ideal blueprint for UT's first-year coach, the result was still precisely what he was looking for in a 7-1 win over Northern Illinois to open the baseball season.
"We went with a little bit of the long ball today," Serrano said with a game ball clutched in his right hand. "Like I've always said, we'll win any way we can."
The first for Serrano with the Vols required something of a different approach than perhaps anticipated, though they set a scrappy tone right from the start to grab an early lead on the Huskies.
UT was drilled by a pair of pitches and drew a couple walks, turning them into two runs without the benefit of a base hit. The Vols also ran into an out when Drew Steckenrider was picked off to end the inning, though, the first of a couple miscues as they install their aggressive game plan on offense.
But with Steckenrider (1-0) coasting through four scoreless innings on the mound and adding a late home run at the plate to complement a three-run blast from outfielder Chris Pierce, the Vols had plenty of breathing room to work through any growing pains.
"I mean, I guess that power showed today," Pierce said. "But look at the first inning, we had the two runs on no hits, that's kind of what
our offense is typically.
"We took some hit-by-pitches and turned it into two runs without a hit, that's kind of the offense we were looking for — make their mistakes count for us."
The junior made the Huskies pay most with his opposite-field shot to bring in three runs and double the lead in the sixth inning, though he had contributed earlier to the small-ball effort with a groundout that plated the second run in the hitless frame to open the game.
Steckenrider was nabbed a bit too far from third base to end that threat, and the Vols also were caught stealing in the third and later had a runner thrown out at home trying to test the Huskies defensively. But UT also was able to pull off a double steal, played flawless defense and got solid outings in relief from freshmen Robbie Kidd and Conner Stevens after Steckenrider left after allowing just two hits during his designated four innings.
"I think we wanted to see where we were at," Steckenrider said. "It's the first game and we didn't want to show everything we've got in stock (offensively) right away just to open the season.
"For sure, we'll be doing more later down the road and more games in."
With a defense that didn't commit an error and a pitching staff that scattered five hits and didn't allow a run until the eighth inning, the Vols hardly needed much more to get Serrano started on the right foot.
And that formula worked out just fine.
"Probably the thing I'll look at is we played superior defense and we got two freshmen's feet wet," Serrano said. "To see some of the growth for the young guys helping us, we'll start to see them growing up as we go through this.
"You look at both teams, the pitching is going to be ahead of the hitting at this time of the year, so you have to manufacture some things. ... We're going to put pressure on guys. At times we may look silly, because we're going to run into some outs. But we're not ever going to stop applying the pressure."
It didn't take the Vols long to prove they'll do it any way they can.
Schedule Change: The threat of inclement weather has forced UT to alter the schedule for the season-opening weekend.
The Vols and Northern Illinois will play twice today instead of spreading the series throughout the weekend, with the first of two nine-inning games slated to start at noon.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee baseball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BaseVols_Beat.