Freshmen make up a little more than 56 percent of the Tennessee baseball roster.
Twenty-one of the team’s 32 players are newcomers.
Just three returning starters from last year’s squad are penciled into the depth chart.
UT’s youth and inexperience are well documented.
But even with the abundance of unfamiliar faces, sophomore Will Maddox doesn’t simply wear the label of leader by default.
From crashing into the third-base bleachers to snag foul balls, to savvy base running and a contagious, gritty spirit, UT coach Dave Serrano isn’t shy to deem Maddox the outright team leader.
With the third basemen riding an 11-game hitting streak, Serrano and the Vols (9-7) look for Maddox to continue his trailblazer tactics in the batter’s box as Tennessee begins conference play at 7:35 tonight with a three-game series at Alabama (9-8).
Saturday’s game starts at 7:05 p.m. and Sunday’s at 2:05 p.m.
During his streak, Maddox is hitting .526 with 12 RBIs and 11 runs. His previous career-long hitting streak was seven games.
Since Maddox moved from hitting leadoffto No. 2 in the batting order, the Vols have won five in a row. Tennessee has scored at least one run in the first inning during each of those games.
“I love everything about (Will) because he has a drive to be good,” Serrano said.
Pitching Projection: UT’s pitching keystone Zack Godley will start today’s game and freshman Aaron Quillen will get the nod Saturday.
But Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined and Serrano is in no rush to change that.
With none of UT’s youthful arms clearly emerging to claim the third spot in the rotation, Serrano said he will wait to see how the weekend pans out before naming a Sunday starter.
“We’ll see how the dust settles,” Serrano said. “We have a lot of options.”
Some names Serrano mentioned were Andy Cox, Drake Owenby, Trevor Bettencourt and even customary closer Nick Williams.
Moving Moberg: Utility man Jeff Moberg is swinging a hot bat and Serrano has certainty taken notice.
“(Moberg) is a guy really pushing for a position,” he said.
With Moberg on a current six-game hitting streak and averaging .467 during that span, Serrano said he’s going to find a way to work the freshman into the lineup whether it’s in the infield or outfield.
Two-Out Talent: While Serrano admits his offense is still working to develop an identity, one offensive trend has emerged to his pleasure — production with two outs.
Forty-seven of the team’s 88 RBIs have come with two outs. The team also is hitting .319 with two outs compared to its normal average of .254.
Platoon Behind The Plate: Last season’s starting catcher Ethan Bennett will continue to share time behind the plate with emerging freshman David Houser.
“I don’t want to commit to anything right now,” Serrano said. “We’re going to go with whoever is (playing better).”
Houser is hitting .180 with three RBIs in 50 at-bats. Bennett is averaging .286 in just seven plate appearances.