Tennessee needed to bounce back on Tuesday following a weekend sweep at No. 6 South Carolina, and the Vols (19-14) got back in the win column with a 7-5 victory over Appalachian State (8-25).
Freeman Solid on the Mound
Dave Serrano went with Eric Freeman on the mound, following a good outing on Friday at South Carolina (2.1 IP, 1H, 2K). The Knoxville native went 4.2 strong innings on Tuesday, allowing just four hits and one run on 60 pitches.
Freeman said he felt confident after his outing against the Gamecocks.
“Anytime you do well, the next time out it gets easier,” Freeman said. “Down in South Carolina, I had a pretty good command of my changeup and the fastball was alright. I wanted to come out here today and work on attack the bottom of my zone with the fastball.”
Freeman’s approach was simple on the mound, starting with his fastball and adding the changeup late in at bats.
“I felt good,” Freeman added. “Just wanted to get out there and command the fastball. As I progressed on I was able to get my fingers on top of the baseball and keep it down in the zone.”
“Freeman threw well last Friday at South Carolina, he had a really good changeup,” Serrano added after the game. “For him, he has to be down in the zone. He’s a ground-ball guy, he’s going to force contact because he doesn’t have overpowering stuff.”
Vols Score Seven, Leave Runners on Base
Offensively, the Vols came out of the gates hot, scoring two runs in the first and adding another in the second. Nick Senzel (1-4, 2R, RBI) brought in Chris Hall with a one-out triple in the first and later scored on a Vincent Jackson double.
The Mountaineers snatched one back in the third, but when Jackson stole second base in the fifth, Benito Santiago scored from third on the throw down to second. Tennessee led 4-1 after that.
After two quick outs in the seventh, pinch hitter Matt Waldren hit a bases-clearing triple down the right-field line to score three runs, giving Tennessee some much needed insurance, making it 7-2.
“It was really just me trying not to do too much and find a way on base,” Waldren said. “I came up in a big spot. I got a pitch I could handle and found a way to get it to the outfield. The heart of our order really steps up everyday. Knowing that they got on base without trying to do too much really influenced me.”
“Matt Waldren is a fun guy to be around,” Serrano said after the game. “He’s one of the more popular guys on our team, and you pull for those guys. I thought it was a good time to get him some at bats. That was a big hit. Those three RBIs were huge the way the outcome ended up.”
The Mountaineers added three runs in the ninth off Jon Lipinski, making the final score 7-5 in favor of the Vols.
Tennessee hit 3-for-15 with runners on base. Serrano explained that his team’s approach with runners on has to change, calling it Tennessee’s “Achilles heel.”
“We’re still trying to find the answers to that,” Serrano said. “You can’t change, you can’t let the situation dictate what you’re going to do. There’s a lot bigger things in life that are a lot more important than taking an at bat or making a pitch.”
Bouncing Back from Columbia
Dave Serrano was pleased with his team’s performance and mentality following a sweep on the road last weekend.
“I noticed it when I met with them before the game, a pep in their step,” Serrano said. “We have to put behind us what happened this past weekend. We’ve got to move forward. We have 18 opportunities in conference ahead of us.”
Despite giving up three runs in the ninth, Serrano was complimentary of Jon Lipinski. He hailed his closer as a “competitive guy” who is “down on himself.”
“I thought Jon (Lipinski) pitched well,” Serrano said. “He threw some ground balls that found some seams. He made them do something to score some runs.”
Much has been made about UT’s struggling bullpen this season, but Tuesday was a step in the right direction. Zach Reid gave up one run and two hits in his inning of work. Hunter Martin (1.1 IP, H, K) and Steven Kane (1.0 IP, K) helped shut the door in the seventh and eighth innings.
“I’m trying to minimize what they’re doing, not giving them too big a piece of the pie,” Serrano said about the bullpen. “They know that they’ve struggled at times, it’s been talked about a lot. I’m starting to see a little steady progress from some guys and we’re going to need that.”
The Bottom Line
Appalachian State is one of the weaker teams Tennessee has seen this season. The Vols took care of business and looked like they should against a 8-25 team.
The bullpen’s confidence is massive heading into Auburn this weekend. The series will start on Thursday, so Tennessee’s starters will have one less day of rest. If Warren, Soto and Cox can’t last as long into their starts due to fatigue, Tennessee’s relievers will have to step up.
The upcoming series is a very winnable one. Although it is a road series in the SEC, Auburn (15-18, 3-9 SEC) dropped a game on Tuesday night against Kennesaw State after losing a home series against a mediocre Missouri team last weekend. The Vols will have to grow up a little bit and find a way to win the series on the road.
Tennessee remains in the “First Four Out” of the NCAA Tournament according to Baseball America. This is a must-win series if the Vols want to make it back into the tourney.