JOHNSON CITY — Tennessee ruined East Tennessee State University’s first sellout ever at Thomas Stadium, capitalizing on Buccaneer mistakes in a 4-3 win Tuesday night.
ETSU set a school record with 1,752 fans in attendance for the game between the in-state rivals.
For the Vols (14-17), the victory snaps an eight-game losing skid dating back to March 23. It’s UT’s third consecutive victory against ETSU (18-11) since renewing their in-state series last season. UT won 9-7 earlier in the season in Knoxville.
“For us, this was what the doctor ordered,” UT coach Dave Serrano said. “It doesn’t get the ship turned around, but just seeing our players’ jubilation after the game makes me feel good as their head coach.”
Tennessee was down early after starter Andy Cox (1-3) gave up a home run to ETSU left fielder Dylan Tritsch. Cox lasted two more innings, giving up another home run to catcher Mason Hershey in the third before Serrano went to the bullpen. The Vols used five pitchers in the game and surrendered just one run the rest of the way. Cox still took home the win, his first of the season, giving up three hits, two runs and no walks with one strikeout.
“We’ve really been struggling on the mound,” Serrano said. “We threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, we minimized our pitch counts and we minimized our walks. That’s the difference. We gave up the two big solo-shot home runs, but that’s not what beats you in college baseball most of the time. It’s when you give up the free passes and you make errors and it culminates in a big inning.”
The big mistakes belonged to ETSU. With Tennessee up 3-2 in the top of the fifth, Bucs reliever Will Chesney hit UT lead-off hitter A.J. Simcox. A single from Will Maddox sent Simcox to third. With two outs, ETSU coach Tony Skole called for and intentional walk of Scott Price, who hit a home run in the third inning. On ball four, Chesney was wild, sending the ball to the backstop and allowing Simcox to score what turned out to be the winning run.
“We couldn’t get out of our own way it seems like,” Skole said. “We had a lot of self-inflicted damage from a pitching standpoint. We hit the nine-hole guy. We threw a wild pitch to allow a run to score when we were trying to pitch around a young man. (That) was the difference in the ballgame.”
ETSU pulled within one in the sixth on an RBI from former Powell High School standout Andrew Green.
With right-hander Nick Williams moving back to a starting role for the Vols, it was up to 6-foot-1 freshman Trevor Bettencourt to close out the game in the ninth. Bettencourt picked up his second save of the season, retiring all three batters he faced.
Tennessee returns to action starting Friday for a weekend series against Kentucky on the road.