The ride Saturday from the Lexington hotel to Cliff Hagan Stadium was silent.
As in mythical Mudville after Mighty Casey struck out, there was no joy on Tennessee’s baseball bus.
“Almost like we were driving to our funeral,’’ coach Dave Serrano said Monday.
The Vols had just taken another one on the chin Friday night. Kentucky rallied late in the SEC series opener to turn UT’s potential breakthrough win into just another heartache.
But here’s the news:
A lost Friday didn’t become another lost weekend. For the first time in two years, the Vols came home Sunday night with an SEC road series win.
“You could just feel a gorilla being lifted off our shoulders,’’ Serrano said.
Friday notwithstanding, it was a good week for the Vols. They entered it reeling from a 19-2 humiliation by South Carolina at Lindsey Nelson Stadium the previous Sunday, an eighth consecutive loss. Serrano was at wit’s end. His second season of a major rebuild seemingly had jumped the rails. He vowed to re-evaluate everything.
Tuesday, a little sun peaked through the clouds. The Vols won 4-3 at East Tennessee State.
“For the first game all year we didn’t walk a batter,’’ Serrano said.
That’s no small detail. Walks are killing this pitching staff.
Come Friday, the Vols were so close to following up ETSU with a winning effort at Kentucky, only to see a 4-2 eighth-inning lead become a 5-4 loss.
Saturday almost got away, too. An unlikely hero yanked it back into the win column.
Bottom of the ninth, a 10-5 Tennessee lead withered to 10-9. Worse, the potential tying and winning runners got aboard.
Needing one more out, Serrano went to the mound. He could call on an ineffective bullpen or he could go outside the box.
Outside the box won. Jeff Moberg, a freshman infielder who last threw a meaningful pitch as a junior in high school, got the nod.
“Was it unfair to put him in?’’ Serrano said. “Absolutely.
“It was gut instinct. We needed a guy to come in and throw strikes.’’
Moberg had thrown a little in practice lately. He seemed to know where the plate was.
His first pitch hit a batter who was crowding the plate. Bases loaded. He fell behind the next hitter 2-0.
Then he threw a strike. That changed everything. The next pitch got the bat off a Kentucky shoulder and sent a fly ball to deep center field. Parker Wormsley ran it down. Game over.
Come Sunday, Zack Godley did what your best pitcher is supposed to do. He out-dueled Kentucky’s draft-bound Corey Littrell in a 5-0, complete-game shutout.
Monday, Godley was named SEC Pitcher of the Week. Tuesday there is another bus ride, to Greeneville to play Virginia Tech at Tusculum University. Friday, the Vols are back home to open a series with Ole Miss.
At the mid-point of the SEC race, they at least have a fighting chance to make the SEC tournament for the first time since 2007.
Their struggles are far from over. Pitching remains a challenge. Still, Serrano hopes he can look back one day and point to the past week as a turning point.
“I see a young team starting to pull for all the right things,’’ Serrano said. “It’s a baby step.’’
That’s better than driving to your own funeral.
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.