Dave Serrano pulled out all the stops to get a game two victory over Vandy. His team delivered.
Tennessee bounced back from a close Friday night loss to beat No. 4 Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon, defeating the Commodores 2-1.
Cox Comes up Clutch
The key storyline for Tennessee on Saturday came from Senior left-hander Andy Cox, who pitched four innings of no-hit ball to slam the door for the Vols.
“The way I saw Aaron Soto pitched last night I knew that these guys aren’t what people say they are,” Cox said after the win. “They’re good hitters but they’re not great.”
Cox walked the first batter he faced, but retired the next three Vandy hitters on six pitches. The Commodores never posed a real threat against Cox. After drawing two more walks in the seventh, Cox was perfect in the eighth and ninth inning.
The Tennessee senior had his breaking pitches working, but said the key was his fastball.
“The biggest thing for me is the command of my fastball,” Cox said. “Once I command that fastball it’s a good way to keep the hitters off balance and keep my momentum going.”
Dave Serrano said Cox’s experience made the difference, pointing to a stellar final frame that sealed the win for Tennessee.
“I thought the best part of Andy’s outing today was the fact that in the ninth inning he showed the experience of a senior,” Serrano said. “He went out and got strike one on the first three guys he faced and ended up getting all three out. There wasn’t more drama. You could feel the tension, and he went out there and took control.”
Tennessee’s Bats Deliver Early
The Vols jumped on the board first with smart base running. With runners on the corners, Derek Lance took off for first, drawing a throw down to second. That allowed Jordan Rodgers to score, narrowly avoiding Jason Delay’s tag.
Tennessee would strike again in the second when Benito Santiago hit an inside the park home run off the right field wall to make it 2-0 Vols.
Vandy right fielder Jeren Kendall collided hard with the wall, and when he saw Kendall on the ground, Santiago said he knew right away that he would score.
“I was just trying to work middle and everything just came as planned,” Santiago said. “By the time I was touching first base I saw everything that happened in front of me. Right off the bat I knew I was coming for four.”
Tennessee pieced together four hits off Vanderbilt starter Kyle Wright, who came in to the game with a 1.70 ERA.
Zach Warren Has Another Solid Start
Zach Warren got the start, lasting five innings and giving up just one run on four hits. Warren looked relaxed through four, but ran into trouble in the fifth when Liam Sabino and Tyler Campbell hit back to back doubles, cutting the lead to one.
Serrano said he “went with his gut” when he pulled Warren after five innings.
“I’ve been around Zach for almost two years now,” Serrano said. “I wanted him to come out in a positive situation. I knew we had the trump card in Andy (Cox). I wasn’t going to second guess myself.”
Warren admitted that he wasn’t at his best early, but managed to get himself in a rhythm.
“I fell behind in a lot of the counts early,” Warren said. “I made pitches when I had to, it was mainly fastballs all day. Coach did a good job when he called off-speed (pitches). We were able to keep them off balance.”
The Bottom Line
Tennessee puts themselves in a good position by winning game two. After seeing Aaron Soto perform well on Friday, the pitching staff took a lot of positives into Saturday’s game. Using both Warren and Cox shows just how much Tennessee needed to have this game.
“If we see victory in sight we’ve got to go for it each and every game,” Serrano added. “Andy is a key part of this pitching staff whether he’s a starter or coming out of he bullpen. When the score was 2-0 and then 2-1, (Zach Warren) was battling himself. I went with my gut feeling. I thought that the opportunity for victory was there.”
If Tennessee had come up empty late in this one, the Vols would have been facing a sweep without any of its weekend starters to pick them up on Sunday. Cox had to finish this one off with a win.
Sunday presents a whole new set of challenges for Tennessee. Freshman Will Neely will get his first career start, and he’ll do so against a familiar foe. Vanderbilt will trot out former Farragut starter Patrick Raby. The two pitchers faced off last year in the Tennessee 3A State Title game.
“(Will Neely) should feel comfortable going out there,” Zach Warren said. “I’m just going to tell him to go out there and pretend like it’s high school, because he was a dominant pitcher in high school. All he’s got to do is throw strikes and fill it up with his good fastball, changeup and slider.”
A series win over Vanderbilt would change the landscape of the season. Win tomorrow, and the Vols will most likely move themselves back on the bubble, closer to an NCAA Tournament berth.
“It’s good, but we’re not done yet,” Andy Cox said. “We played as hard as we can, but tomorrow is a new day and we’ve got to get ready to roll.”