With 18 freshmen on the current roster, Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano has continually stressed the success of this team will develop over time, and playing top competition will only aid the process.
The Volunteers learned Friday night, however, the experiences along the way can be a bit disheartening as the UT fell to No. 20 Arizona State 4-0 Friday evening in the 2013 home opener at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Led by starter Trevor Williams, the Sun Devils (3-1) stifled the Volunteer (1-4) offense the entire evening, limiting Serrano's squad to just three hits and seven base runners on the evening. Williams picked up the win, throwing seven strong innings with eight strikeouts on only 89 pitches.
"I think the difference in the game was the fact that Trevor Williams was lights out tonight," Serrano said. "He was only ball-one on two of our hitters in his seven innings of work. That was probably the difference."
Vols starter Zack Godley was equally as solid early, surrendering only one run through four innings with six strikeouts. The Bamberg, S.C., native used two of those punch outs to wiggle out of a bases-loaded jam in the second but eventually ran into serious trouble in the fifth.
After the lone senior on the UT pitching staff surrendered back-to-back base runners via single and walk, Arizona State sophomore outfielder Trever Allen lofted a curveball into the front row of the left field seats for a three-run homer, pushing the Sun Devil lead to 4-0.
"It looked like (Allen) was expecting (curveball)," Godley said. "He looked like he was on (the pitch), and got a good swing on it."
"The guy Allen hit a good first pitch curveball. It was a good pitch in the zone, and he just went down and got it," Serrano added. "You got to tip your cap where it needs to be tipped."
The Volunteers were able to make some noise in the bottom of the fourth, after an A.J. Simcox walk and an Andrew Lee single put runners on first and third with only one out. However, an unsuccessful double steal saw Simcox gunned down at home on the return throw from second base, all but ending the scoring threat.
"On the play at the plate, we ran a hit-and-run and swung through it," Serrano said. "They come up and throw (to second), and we're going to the plate. If (Simcox) goes power slide into home plate, he beats it."
Tennessee made one final push in the bottom of the ninth after Sun Devil reliever Brett Lilek walked the bases loaded to bring the tying run to the plate with two outs. The potential rally was quashed though as right-fielder Christin Stewart grounded out to first, ending the threat and the game.
Although pleased with his young squad's ability to hold their own against tough competition, Serrano made no excuses based on that lack of experience.
"We need to continue to create ways to win. I don't want losing to become contagious, and I don't want them to feel good about it," Serrano said. "We can't go back and say the luck's not on our side because that's what teams that aren't successful say. We've got to find other ways to win, and create some innings.
"We need to find ways to win game like these, and we will in short order."
The Diamond Vols return to action Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. against these same Sun Devils. Freshman right-hander Aaron Quillen takes the mound for Tennessee, looking to improve upon his solid college debut in Las Vegas a week ago.