For an inning, Tennessee tapped into its offensive potential and looked capable of realizing the goals it set for itself months ago.
An aggressive approach in the heart of the order led to a quick run with a couple extra-base hits.
The toughness the Vols have stressed helped lead to another trip across the plate after a batter stood his ground to take a pitch off his body.
UT even watched a slump seemingly come to an end with a single from the bottom of the lineup that brought home another run.
An explosive third inning gave the Vols a lead in a game they desperately needed to win to climb back into the postseason chase and also provided a clear sign of progress with their bats. But perhaps everything after that offered a reminder of how much more improvement might still be needed as Vanderbilt quieted the UT attack and roared back to take a series-clinching 12-6 win on Sunday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
"The first three innings were probably the proudest I've been of them all year," Vols coach Dave Serrano said. "I thought they were actually, for the first time in a while, actually going for something — and going to get it on their own.
"The unfortunate thing is it's a nine-inning baseball game, and we did it for three innings."
The Commodores (23-24, 11-13 SEC) controlled the rest of them, overpowering a thin pitching staff with runs in every frame but one and getting productive relief outings to turn the momentum after UT jumped out to a fast start.
Davis Morgan and Drew Steckenrider used back-to-back doubles to start the rally in the third for the Vols (23-24, 8-16). Chris Pierce followed by getting drilled with a pitch and Zach Luther delivering his second run-scoring single of the game to build an early three-run lead.
But it wouldn't last as Steckenrider labored on the mound after taking over for starter Dalton Saberhagen and the Vols started struggling to put the ball in play offensively.
"It's a tough one," Luther said. "That's Vol baseball early on — they put up one-spots in the first three innings but we respond back, which is good. I mean, it's a nine-inning game and you just have to keep playing.
"To be honest, I don't really know (what happened) looking back. I think we're all pretty frustrated, it
wasn't really one play that did it. We just didn't keep fighting and they kept putting pressure on us."
The Vols are facing even more now if they're going to earn a spot in the conference tournament, missing out on a big opportunity to pull within a game of the Commodores for one of the final spots in the field.
With two weekends left in conference play, UT is still alive as it sits two games back of 10th-place Auburn. But it will surely need more innings like its third on Sunday and less like the final six if it's going to stay in contention.
"I think (assistant coach Greg) Bergeron set the tone early that he was going to be aggressive and that we were going for this," Serrano said. "And they bought into it. I saw the looks on their faces, and I saw the actions in their bodies that they were into that. Then it just went away.
"A baseball game is nine, one-inning games. Well, we won three of them. That's not enough."
Challenge Games Set: The Vols will host three games today for the Knoxville Challenge League, a program for special-needs children that includes eight teams from the area.
The event will be open to the public and free of charge. The first game is set for 5:30 p.m.