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Vols Battle, Drop Series to No. 9 Ole Miss 2-1

Photo Credit: Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics
Photo Credit: Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee baseball coach Dave Serrano said after Tennessee’s 10-7 loss to Ole Miss that he “saw a different personality” in his team over the weekend against Ole Miss.

The Vols battled to a win in game one, defeating the No. 9 Rebels on a walk-off single from senior Derek Lance. Sophomore ace Zach Warren was brilliant, dazzling Ole Miss (19-2, 2-1 SEC) hitters and allowing just four hits and one earned run. Closer Jon Lipinski gave up one run in relief, but was largely effective in three innings of work.

Tennessee dropped games two and three in similar fashion. The Vols (12-7, 1-2 SEC) went down early only to come up just short in their comeback attempts late in both games. Serrano said that his team did not play well against UNC Asheville in a 7-3 win last Tuesday, and that performance carried over to the Ole Miss series.

Starting pitcher Hunter Martin only lasted two-thirds of an inning in game three, giving up two runs. Tennessee was able to answer in the second inning. Leno Ramirez got things going with a double, and it was a groundout to short from Jared Pruett that drove Ramirez in. Tennessee was not done then, getting a 2-out single from Max Bartlett to keep the inning alive. A balk, an error and a couple walks brought in Bartlett to tie it up 2-2 in the second inning.

The latter half of the lineup produced for Tennessee all series. In game three, center fielder Derek Lance led off the seventh with a double to right-center, getting on base for the second time on the day. That started a productive inning for the top of the order. Chris Hall looped a hit over the shortstop to move him to third. A Nick Senzel walk would load the bases for Vincent Jackson, who brought in one run with a SAC fly. Jordan Rodgers teed off on a low fastball over the left field wall for a 3-run homer to bring Tennessee within four of the Rebels in the seventh. Lance was 4-of-11 against the Rebels, going 2-for-3 in game three and scoring on Rodgers’ home run.

Tennessee’s comeback attempt fell short in game two, and the Vols dropped that one 6-4. Tennessee fell 10-7 to the No. 9 Rebels in game three. Jordan Rodgers said after game three that he was “trying to do too much all weekend.” Rodgers said that he shortened up his swing in the seventh inning of Sunday’s game when he belted a 3-run jack to left field.

Starting pitching is starting to become a big question mark for this Tennessee team. Serrano said Sunday that, “A lot of things have to be fixed on the mound.” Serrano went on to add that behind ace Zach Warren, there is a lot of “coin-flipping” regarding who the Saturday and Sunday pitchers will be moving forward.

Following Sunday’s loss, Serrano said he feels that Tennessee pitchers are not throwing enough strikes, giving teams more opportunities to hit by throwing too many pitches. Serrano also said that Tennessee has his pitchers have “SEC-caliber stuff,” but explained that the mental aspect the game was holding back guys like Andy Cox and Hunter Martin.

Serrano praised the young guys on the team, saying that the older guys “have to get out of their way.” Freshman reliever Will Neely was solid in relief for Tennessee, going 2.1 innings and allowing just two baserunners. Serrano mentioned that Neely will get a look at the starting rotation soon, saying that “he’s getting ready to push somebody out of a spot.” According to Serrano on Sunday, Neely is one of several options to start next weekend at Alabama.

Nick Senzel did not have his best series, going 2-for-10 against the Rebels. Serrano, however, praised Senzel’s game on Sunday. “I thought Nick had a good day,” Serrano said. “I had a talk with him before the game that bad games are going to happen to everybody. I thought the way he responded today was really good.”

The Tennessee junior struck out three times on Saturday, but came back in game three with a double and an RBI, putting his batting average at .358 on the year.

This was a tough first test for a Tennessee team with high expectations. The Vols did not play particularly well in games two and three, yet still nearly managed to almost pull off two upsets against a very good and experienced Ole Miss team. Tennessee is back on the diamond Tuesday against Tennessee Tech. Looking forward, Serrano said, “the Alabama series starts Tuesday against Tennessee Tech.”

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