The success came instantly — three consecutive weekend sweeps, the best start in program history, and a national ranking just a week into the season.
But now as the dark times creep in for Dave Serrano's Volunteers — who are now losers of four straight after falling 2-1 to East Tennessee State Tuesday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium — the third-year head man is rather unimpressed with how the negativity has taken such a signiifcant toll.
"We haven't handled adversity good at all," Serrano said. "The looks on our faces, we're feeling sorry for ourselves."
After a heartbreaking weekend sweep to South Carolina that included a pair of walk-off losses, the latest chapter was written Tuesday night as the UT bats failed to produce yet again, scraping out a mere three hits through the first six innings.
The Vols (19-8) have now scored just one run in their last 23 frames — a stretch that also saw UT go 17 2/3 innings without scoring — and have left 14 men on base in their previous two contests.
"We've got to get out of this," Serrano said. "We can't rely on anyone else to help us get out of it. We've got to do it ourselves, and that's part of athletics — you're going to go through times like this. You can't pull apart. You've got to stick together.
"We've got to start generating something to start getting some excitement back in the dugout and get some excitement back on the field."
Early on, however, it was the visiting Buccaneers (14-13) who produced the necessary buzz with the help of their now-nationally prominent first baseman Clinton Freeman.
Coming off a week in which he batted .800 (8-for-10), slugged four homers and garnered national player of the week honors by both National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and Louisville Slugger, Freeman may very well have been the hottest hitter in the country heading into Tuesdays in-state bout.
"I know he's a home run hitter," Serrano said. "He has an uphill swing."
And in the fourth — after Bucs third baseman Chris Cook reached on a fielder's choice — Freeman unloaded on a Kyle Serrano (2-1) breaking ball, smacking the 0-1 pitch squarely off the right field light pole for a 2-0 ETSU lead.
"I don't think it was a bad pitch that Kyle threw," Dave Serrano said. "It's probably more of a bad call on my part. It was a breaking ball that went right into his swing. I kicked myself because I was gonna go changeup there, and I decided to go breaking ball.
"We faced him a lot over the years, and I know he's a good hitter and has got a lot of power."
UT responded in the bottom half, however, needing just a single base knock to bring home its only run of the contest.
After freshman Nick Senzel walked and advanced to second on a balk, third baseman Taylor Smart — UT's top hitter with a .344 average — laced a two-out RBI single to left field, slicing the ETSU advantage in half at 2-1.
From there on, though, Dave Serrano's squad could only muster one runner past second base as a quartet of Buccaneer hurlers stifled the UT lumber in the latter innings.
Freeman, who took the mound in the eighth after delivering the eventual game-clinching blast, capped off the upset victory with two scoreless frames, striking out four en route to his seventh save of the season.
"An in-state school, they always want to beat Tennessee," Smart said, "so you're always going to have a target on your back."
As a whole though, the Bucs had little to show on the offensive end. The Vols trotted out their own plethora of pitching — usually the norm for a midweek contest — as six UT hurlers allowed just a total of three hits and one walk with five punch outs.
In his first start since Feb. 19, sophomore Andy Cox got the train rolling with a pair of scoreless frames and no major hiccups followed aside from the Freeman blast.
That, however, doesn't calm the heated feelings of displeasure swirling through the UT camp.
"Are we disappointed?" Serrano asked rhetorically. "Absolutely. ... I hate losing, and I want our team to hate losing."
Added Smart: "It all comes down to winning from my perspective. I don't care if you have a bunch of good guys, bad guys — I could care less.
"You come to win."