Zack Godley proved he could bounce back from a loss with his first chance.
Now it’s Kentucky’s turn.
Fresh off picking up the only blemish on his record, the Tennessee junior responded with perhaps his best performance of the season Friday night and added another impressive line to his baseball resume by handling the previously unbeaten, sixth-ranked Wildcats in a 4-1 decision at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“I kind of like the feeling of giving them their first loss,” said Godley — who lost to Georgia, 10-5, giving up seven runs in four innings last Saturday. “It’s a good feeling, but us winning, period, is a great thing.
“As far as last weekend is concerned, it’s over. There’s nothing I can do about it — I couldn’t do anything but come out and do better.”
The right-hander didn’t do that right away, giving up a couple hits and a run as the Wildcats (22-1, 3-1 SEC) jumped out to a quick lead.
But for the next seven innings, Godley (3-1) was at his finest in allowing just four batters to reach base without allowing a run to give the Vols (13-8, 2-2) a chance to knock off Kentucky at the plate.
It took UT a little while to get that breakthrough, but a lone run to break a fifth-inning tie on a grounder by Zach Osborne and an effective inning in relief by Nick Blount would have qualified as enough support to put Godley back in the win column.
“I really feel every time he gets ready to pitch that we’re going to get a good outing,” Vols coach Dave Serrano said. “It was like he just let (the loss at Georgia) go. It was like no big deal. OK, he didn’t pitch well last week, but this is another week.
“That’s kind of how I want our guys to respond. I want them to have a little amnesia where they just let it go.”
With two more games left in the series with the Wildcats, Serrano might need his players to use that amnesia after a victory as well. And that may be a bit tougher than usual considering the celebration on the field and how memorable a few moments were leading up to it.
Osborne turned in a handful of spectacular defensive plays at shortstop, including a couple in clutch situations late in the game.
Drew Steckenrider made a leaping grab at the wall in left field to end Godley’s last inning of work in the eighth.
And suddenly thrust into the role of closer, Blount delivered exactly what the Vols needed by striking out the first guy he faced and then giving his infielders some action to seal the outcome.
“It’s a good win,” Serrano said. “I’m not trying to minimize it, but it’s not so much about beating the last undefeated team. It’s about beating a team in the SEC and getting to .500 (in the league). That’s the way I look at it. Don’t get me wrong — to know that we’re the first team to beat the last team that was undefeated, that’s special.
“The one thing that I will say is the game can kind of create some mental toughness, and if we’re not getting mentally tough just by some of the situations in games that we’re in, then we’re not paying attention to the details.”
The Vols have had to endure a few of those lessons in losses along the way, including one with Godley on the mound.
But it’s Kentucky’s turn this time.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee baseball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BaseVols_Beat.