GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tennessee baseball coach Dave Serrano is trying to get his team to focus on the little things.
A quality pitch here. A quality at-bat with runners in scoring position there.
But for the Vols, it was another frustrating night of missed opportunities. Tennessee started an important SEC series with rival Florida by leaving 11 runners on base in a 7-2 loss to the Gators at McKethan Stadium.
“The fact that the scoreboard looks like it does tonight, two runs on 10 hits, is alarming to me,” Serrano said. “We’re getting quality at-bats when it doesn’t matter.”
Tennessee (17-23, 5-14 SEC) lost its fifth straight, while the Gators (24-19, 11-8) have won 10 of 11. Florida hit a season-high three home runs to knock Tennessee freshman starter Aaron Quillen out of the game in the fifth inning.
“I think we are pressing,” Tennessee sophomore third baseman Will Maddox said. “It sucks to lose and we just haven’t been playing well. I think what it takes is we have to find a way to step up and outplay a team for nine innings and outwork a team for nine innings and out-battle a team for nine innings.”
Florida jumped on Quillen early. A solo home run from Justin Shafer to lead off the second inning gave the Gators a 1-0 lead. Florida added four more runs in the third on an RBI single from Richie Martin and three-run homer from catcher Taylor Gushue.
Serrano thought the key to the inning was a wild pitch by Quillen that moved Florida’s Harrison Bader from second to third. That allowed Martin to poke a
line-drive single over the drawn-in infield to continue the rally.
“It just opened up the floodgates,” Serrano said. “Those are the little things as a team when you are struggling, when you are trying to get an identity, those are the things we have to be able to control as a baseball team.”
The Gators chased Quillen with two more runs on the fifth. Second baseman Casey Tugeon belted an opposite-field solo home run. Gushue and Shafer followed with back-to-back doubles, extending Florida’s lead to 7-0.
In 4 1/3 innings, Quillen allowed seven runs on 10 hits.
“They hit our mistakes tonight,” Maddox said. “They were getting pitches up and putting good swings on them. This is a good park to hit at and they took advantage of it tonight.”
Freshman lefty Danny Young was pushed up to the Friday spot in the rotation for Florida. He held UT scoreless while pitching a season-high 5 2/3 innings.
Tennessee helped bail Young out, stranding seven runners through the first five innings, including three in scoring position.
“It’s just become a mental thing,” Maddox said. “I feel like with nobody on base, we’ve been taking great at-bats. Somehow, we’ve got to take that same approach when we do have runners in scoring position.”
Young left the game in the sixth after taking a line drive off the lip from Vols left fielder Vincent Jackson. But Tennessee fared no better against three UF freshman relievers. The Vols scored both of their runs in the ninth on an RBI double by Maddox and RBI groundout from A.J. Simcox.
Junior right-hander Nick Williams will start for Tennessee on Saturday (7 p.m. start).
Kevin Brockway is a freelance contributor.