The nation’s number one team lived up to its ranking on Sunday afternoon.
The Florida Gators (40-8, 16-7 SEC) handled Tennessee (25-23, 7-17 SEC) for a 9-3 victory in the series deciding game three.
The Vols committed five errors and struck out twelve times in a losing effort.
Faedo Dominates, Vols Comeback Attempt Is Short Lived
Alex Faedo was superb on the mound for the Gators. The right-hander struck out ten batters in seven innings of work. Tennessee pieced together five hits against Faedo, scoring its only run off of him on a wild pitch in the third inning. Offensively, Florida catcher Mike Rivera hurt Tennessee all day long. Rivera knocked in Florida’s first run in the second with single to center. In the sixth, Rivera hit a two run homer to left, giving the Gators a 6-1 lead.
Dave Serrano said Alex Faedo had the best “stuff” of the Florida rotation.
“We knew he had a great breaking ball and a good arm,” Serrano said. “We knew it was going to be tough, but we made it tough on ourselves. When you break down defensively like we did and give extra outs it makes it tougher.”
Trailing 9-1 after seven and a half innings, Tennessee started a comeback in the bottom half of the eighth. Derek Lance started things off with a single, followed by a Brodie Leftridge double. Chris Hall grounded out to score Lance and Nick Senzel doubled to left-center to bring Leftridge home.
From there UT’s offense wouldn’t capitalize with runners in scoring position. The Vols left the bases loaded for the fourth time in the series when Tyler Schultz struck out.
Serrano Gets Tossed
Dave Serrano was ejected in the fourth inning. Following multiple heated exchanges with umpires in the second and fourth, he was tossed arguing a close play at first. On a grounder to the pitcher, Martin’s throw was high, pulling Rodgers off the bag. First base umpire Ryan Broussard called the runner safe, and Serrano quickly argued.
The umpires were not enthusiastic in their ejection of Serrano. He left to an ovation from Tennessee fans, who felt he had an argument about the call in question.
Serrano said he didn’t know he’d been ejected until he got back to the dugout.
“I didn’t think I did anything to get thrown out of the baseball game,” Serrano said. “It’s never about me. I don’t go out there and argue very much because I don’t want it to be about me, but I’m going to protect our team when I feel like the call isn’t right.”
Bullpen coach Chip Dill handled the pitching duties after Serrano’s departure. Assistant coach Aric Thomas continued to cover the offense.
Leftridge Stays Hot
Brodie Leftridge continues to be a bright spot for the Vols. The Tennessee leadoff man smoked a triple to the left center gap in the third. He would then score on a wild pitch to Chris Hall, tying the game at one. In the bottom of the eighth, Leftridge lined a double to the fence in left field.
Leftridge said that in the third he was looking for a pitch on the inside of the plate, and connected with a slider.
“I’m just being more mature and figuring things out,” Leftridge said. “Just getting in a rhythm.”
His hit in the third was Leftridge’s third triple of the season, which ranks him second on the team behind Nick Senzel (5). Leftridge was the only Tennessee hitter who didn’t strike out against Alex Faedo.
Leftridge said Faedo did a good job of mixing his pitches.
“I think he threw the most strikes with all three of his pitches,” Leftridge added. “It challenged us and we couldn’t get the job done.”
The Bottom Line
Defensive mistakes are always costly, but against the number one team in the country, they’re fatal. Starting pitcher Hunter Martin didn’t have his best outing (3.1 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 BB, K) but did enough to keep Tennessee in the game early. Martin allowed four runs, but only one of them was earned.
Serrano said Sunday’s game was one of Tennessee’s worst defensive displays of the season.
“You need to take care of the baseball,” Serrano said. “To beat good teams, like they are, you have to take care of your side of it and we didn’t do that today. It wasn’t plays that were tough plays. They were plays that fundamentally we have been making.”
A win on Sunday would have been icing on the cake. Getting one win from Florida was crucial in Tennessee’s efforts to make the SEC tournament. Moving forward, if Brodie Leftridge can continue to get on base ahead of Nick Senzel’s hot bat, this team has shown that can beat anybody.
UT remains in the cellar of the SEC after Sunday’s loss. Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas are all 7-17, with Auburn sitting at 7-16.
Tennesse hosts LSU (31-16, 14-10 SEC) next weekend. Aaron Soto will rejoin the rotation and most likely pitch on Friday, according to Serrano. The Vols need to win the series in order to make things easier on themselves in the final weekend set against Georgia (23-25, 8-16 SEC).