Tennessee's baseball series against No. 2-ranked Kentucky started with a bang Friday and ended with a thud Sunday.
After an upset victory Friday, the Vols were dealt two losses on Sunday — a 6-2 defeat in the completion of Saturday's rain-postponed game and a 6-0 loss in a seven-inning game before 2,154 fans at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
UT (13-10, 2-4 SEC) also lost two of three games at Georgia last weekend.
"I walk away from my second SEC weekend thinking that we have the capabilities to win these series," UT coach Dave Serrano said, "and we're not coming through when we have to in every aspect of our game, and we need to do that."
Kentucky (24-1, 5-1 SEC) is doing that. In the series finale, the Wildcats scored a run in the sixth and five in the seventh.
"They do things to win games, and that's all I can say," Serrano said. "When you're winning, you create ways to win, and they put pressure on us in the seventh inning, which allowed them to put a five-spot on the board, and that's what winning programs do."
UT's Nick Williams, a sophomore right-hander from Farragut High School, got the start in the series finale and threw 4 1-3 scoreless innings.
Williams gave up only one hit — a line-drive single up the middle by his older brother, Wildcat senior Michael Williams — while walking three and striking out three. He was relieved with one out in the fifth by Drew Steckenrider.
"I felt pretty good, but I gave up too many walks," Nick Williams said. "I threw a few too many balls instead of strikes. That's the only negative about it."
Williams threw 69 pitches before being pulled.
"It was a decision by me," Serrano said. "In a seven-inning game when I knew we had a lot of pitching that my commitment early on was if we wavered
a little bit, I was going to make a (pitching) move. Again, I made the move and I live with it."
Steckenrider (1-2) got out of the fifth, but gave up one run on one hit, a walk, and a hit batsman in the sixth.
Nick Blount, Dalton Saberhagen, and Carter Watson pitched the seventh for UT, which committed two errors in the inning.
"We just fell apart," Serrano said of the seventh. "We were hanging with them. I thought we played with them, we had some opportunities we didn't take advantage of, and to beat quality teams we have to do that."
In the completion of Saturday's game — in which UT trailed 5-0 when it was postponed with two outs in the fifth — the Vols got a two-run single by Will Maddox in the bottom of the fifth, but were kept in check the rest of the game.
UT senior left-hander T.J. Thornton, the projected starter for Saturday, went four innings after the second game resumed Sunday and allowed three hits and one earned run. Starter Brandon Zajac (0-1) took the loss.
"Like I said from the get-go, we knew this was going to be a challenge," Serrano said. "It is a challenge. We accept the challenge and we've got to start having more players accept those challenges, too."
Dave Link is a freelance contributor.