Dave Serrano challenged his Tennessee baseball team to be mentally tougher and the Vols responded with a hard-fought, 7-6 victory over Alabama on Saturday night.
“I challenged the team last night and I challenged them again at lunch about becoming a more mentally tougher team,” Serrano said. “As cliché as it sounds, I think the game of baseball tested us tonight. We overcame some adversity throughout the game.”
UT freshman Trevor Bettencourt (2-1) got the win, allowing a run and two hits in 2 1/3 innings of relief of starter Aaron Quillen.
Keaton Haack (0-1) was charged with the loss for Alabama (10-9, 1-1 SEC). In 1 1/3 innings, Haack allowed two runs (one earned) and committed two errors that allowed runs.
UT’s Drake Owenby recorded the final four outs for the Vols (10-8, 1-1) to record his first save of the season.
“It felt great. I love that situation,” Owenby said. “That’s one of the main reasons why I came here, to pitch in big situations like that. I love the challenge.”
Serrano said the team wanted to make a statement after feeling “ashamed and embarrassed” following Friday night’s 12-1 loss. Serrano said he and his staff wanted the players to be more aggressive and it paid off.
Tennessee’s Ethan Bennett opened the scoring with an two-out, RBI single. Brett Booth’s throw on Bennett’s steal attempt was errant, allowing Parker Wormsley to score from third to put the Vols up 2-0.
“Our approach and mentality was better,” Serrano said. “We put better passes on pitches and that’s what we have to do. We have to do a lot of little things as an offense to be successful. Right now, we’re not good enough to go out and think we’re just going to outslug somebody. We have to put some good at-bats together and throughout our lineup, we have to execute with the inside game and run the bases aggressively.”
A single and double to start the sixth chased starter Jon Keller in favor of Haack. A single from the first batter Haack faced allowed Tennessee to knot the game up at 3-3. A throwing error by Haack allowed Taylor Smart to reach first and Pierce Bily scored from second after the throw got away from Alabama first baseman Austen Smith for a 4-3 UT lead.
The Vols extended the lead to 5-3 when Booth’s throw to catch Tennessee’s A.J. Simcox stealing at third was off target.
Tennessee padded its lead in the eighth, despite getting only one hit. A walk and a hit by pitch coupled with a double steal set up runners at second and third and Simcox delivered a two-run double to right-center to score both runners to make it 7-3.