Dave Serrano said Tennessee got some “on the job training” in a win over UNC Asheville. That training resulted in a job well done.
Tennessee (16-9) completed a mid-week sweep of Middle Tennessee and UNC Asheville on Wednesday night.
The Diamond Vols were exceptional for the second night in a row, defeating UNC Asheville (5-20) 11-0 for their 16th win of the season. It was Tennessee’s first shutout win of the year.
On the mound and at the plate, it was an all-around dominant performance from a Tennessee team that was looking to string together its second straight win.
Tennessee got some help on the base-paths early in this one. Chris Hall stole third and scored on an errant throw to record the first run of the game. The Vols broke the game open in the third inning, recording four runs on four hits. Leadoff hitter Benito Santiago (2-3, 2R, RBI, SB) drove in one run and scored later in the inning after stealing second.
The Vols scored at least a run in six of eight innings at the plate. Vincent Jackson (2-3, 2 HR, 4 RBIs) unloaded a home run over the right field wall in the fifth to lead off the inning. In the sixth, Jackson blooped a hit into shallow left field, but when two fielders collided, Jackson made it all the way around the bases for a bizarre inside the park home run.
“I was running hard around first, but when I hit second I knew I could get home,” Jackson said. “I saw it way out in the outfield, and I didn’t know how it got there, but I didn’t care. I wanted to really set the tone for Harper-Cook. We were all really excited to see him pitch.”
Alex Harper-Cook (4.0 IP, 5 K, 2 BB, 2 H) got his first start of the season, throwing 59 pitches against the Bulldogs. After throwing 22 pitches in the first, Harper-Cook finished the game more efficiently, recording 22 pitches in the second and third innings combined.
“There’s been a lot of really good things this year that have happened to this team, but that was a really special moment, his four innings today,” Serrano said. “He repeated exactly what he did last week in practice, and as a coach that’s all you want your players to do. He went out and stayed within himself. We just added another left-handed pitcher who’s really going to help us down the line. Alex’s misses weren’t bad. I felt he was in complete control.”
“They kept it really simple for me in the first,” Harper-Cook added. “Jordan Rodgers told me to let everything go. I settled down and felt pretty good heading into the second inning. I was a lot more confident tonight. Having the confidence that the older guys believed in me really helped me.”
Derek Lance started the game at second base for Tennessee, going 3-4 with one run and one RBI. As Tennessee continues to try and replace injured senior Jeff Moberg, Lance was solid in the No. 9 spot in the order.
“I think he’s handling it well,” Serrano said. “I don’t think anyone’s going to replace Moberg, we’re just trying to find some guys to fill in for him. I thought Derek turned some good double plays tonight. It’s on the job training for some of these guys. It’s working right now and it’s what we have to do moving forward.”
Nick Senzel left the game with an apparent wrist injury after fouling off a pitch in the fourth inning.
“We got him out for precautionary reasons,” Serrano said. “He was checked out by the doctor, there’s no damage. Nick came up to me in the seventh inning and said he’ll be ready to go tomorrow. He’ll be fine. We got lucky on that and we didn’t want to push the envelope.”
Tennessee hosts No. 12 Kentucky this weekend. The Wildcats beat No. 1 Florida twice over the weekend.
“I think as of now it’s going to be (Zach) Warren on Friday, (Aaron) Soto on Saturday, and (Andy) Cox on Sunday,” Serrano said on Wednesday night. “There’s some stuff that could still happen that we will talk over tomorrow.”
Kentucky suffered a loss to Northern Kentucky in the midweek and bounced back to defeat Xavier on Wednesday. The Vols’ pitching staff will have its hands full going up against the reigning SEC Player of the Week Ethan White, who hit .500 against the top-ranked Gators last weekend. The Vols and Cats will play at 6 p.m. ET on Friday, 4 p.m. ET Saturday, and 2 p.m. ET on Sunday.