GREENEVILLE — Tennessee didn’t wait long to make the first Hokie-Smokey Classic played in 12 seasons a memorable one for the 2,518 fans at Pioneer Park in Greeneville on Tuesday.
With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the first inning, assistant coach Greg Bergeron whispered a message to Jeff Moberg, who was leading off third base.
The message, “Just go right on home here.”
So Moberg did, stealing home and scoring the first run of a 5-4 victory against Virginia Tech.
The stolen run would turn out to be the margin of victory. According to Moberg, that’s the way Bergeron coaches.
“He (Bergeron) didn’t relay it to anyone else,” Moberg said. “He just said it under his breath as I was walking off. He pushes it to the limit. That’s basically him.”
The move turned out to be a triple steal, with designated hitter Christin Stewart and Pierce Bily both taking off from second and first when they saw Moberg headed for home. Moberg reached home on the pitch from Hokies starter Colin O’Keefe to UT left fielder Vincent Jackson. Jackson held his swing, but Moberg beat the catcher’s tag and changed the complexion of the game.
“It was a risky play but it worked out,” Moberg said. “It changed the momentum for us. It made us go out and play harder.”
Vols coach Dave Serrano hopes to make the non-conference game on the campus of Tusculum College an annual event. It had been 11 years since Virginia Tech (22-16) and the Vols (17-18) had met up in the classic.
“I started this back up because it was a tradition and I want to bring tradition back to Tennessee baseball,” Serrano said. “It was big to play this game again and play it here. Coming out with a victory makes it even better.”
Stewart, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI in the game, was excited to play in front of some new fans, many who had never seen a Tennessee baseball game.
“It feels good right now and everybody contributed,” Stewart said. “We got runners on and got them in when we needed it with clutch hitting. I loved the atmosphere. We had a big crowd and a lot of Tennessee fans in this stadium.”
The Vols led 3-0 after the first inning, with Taylor Smart knocking in Stewart and Bily with a two-RBI double down the left-field line. Former Farragut High School standout A.J. Simcox picked up an RBI in the second to give UT a 4-0 lead.
Virginia Tech pulled within one with a big, three-run third inning starting with two consecutive Tennessee errors that put Hokies center fielder Kyle Wernicki on second base. Gary Schneider batted Wernicki in. Sean Keselica followed that score with a two-run home run over the right-field wall.
Stewart’s RBI in the sixth put Tennessee up 5-3.
Blake Thomas (2-0) picked up the win, going 6 1/3 innings with six hits, four runs, two walks and four strikeouts. Freshman Andy Cox picked up his first career save finishing out the final 2 1/3 innings without giving up a hit and recording three strikeouts.
Adam Greene is a freelance contributor.