Vanderbilt scores 3 in the 6th and wins a big game at Tennessee
Tennessee just kept flirting with danger.
Eventually Vanderbilt broke down and gave the Vols what they wanted.
UT pitchers put leadoff runners on base more often than not, couldn't come up with more than one strikeout and gave up a pile of hits. And despite finding a way to wriggle out jams early, the Commodores finally cashed in on a few of the chances the Vols were providing and held on late for a 7-4 SEC baseball victory on Saturday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
"We made it hard on ourselves," UT coach Dave Serrano said. "I'm a firm believer as a pitching guy that we give hitters too much credit. Hitters become better hitters when they see a bunch of pitches. If you get them out early, they don't get that good feeling of seeing your release point, different speeds on your pitches.
"That's the part as a coach that frustrates me. I just don't feel enough of the guys are trusting the system of what breeds good pitching and leads to championship pitching."
The Vols (23-23, 8-15 SEC) rarely worked at that level on the mound as the Commodores evened the series, issuing a walk to the first batter of the game to start a trend that forced freshmen Robbie Kidd and Conner Stevens to consistently battle from behind.
Kidd largely was able to escape significant damage after allowing a pair of first-inning runs, working out of tough spots by inducing weak grounders and also
cutting short a threat by picking off a napping runner with Commodores (22-24, 10-13) on the corners in the second.
But he was tagged for another run in the fifth before leaving with two outs in that frame, and Vanderbilt quickly jumped on Stevens in the sixth for three more after again finding success getting guys on before UT could record an out.
"I feel like an old man," Kidd said. "I've been putting so much pressure on myself, and it's been weighing me down. I've been pitching uphill, and it's not the way I want to pitch.
"I want to be able to jump out, get the first guy out with a first-pitch fastball and not walk the guy and have to work around that. Every time I'm out there I learn something new about the game and just have to take what I learn and do better with my next opportunity."
At this point, the Vols are beginning to run out of them.
After taking the opener on Friday night, UT had a chance to pull into a tie with Vanderbilt as the instate rivals jockey for one of the last berths in the conference tournament field. And while the Vols could claim a head-to-head tiebreaker if they pull out a series victory this afternoon, there are only two weekends left in the regular season — which doesn't allow much time for learning on the job.
"They're both freshmen, but I don't want to use that excuse," Serrano said. "They're not freshmen anymore, they're sophomores — especially as many times as they've got the opportunity to pitch this year. They know the formula that works.
"I can take the blame because I'm the one that works with them, and I just haven't ingrained in their minds the philosophy that you need to jump ahead and pitch downhill. We're pitching uphill too much, and the thing that frustrates me is we're not just missing — we miss really bad."
Now the margin for error is even smaller.