At Monday’s press luncheon, Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano stressed a team that spreads the wealth around each night often ends up being the most successful come season’s end.
His players appeared to be listening.
Nine Vols picked up hits, eight scored a run and the UT pitching continued its early season dominance as the No. 28 Vols routed Quinnipiac 13-2 Friday evening at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, matching the best start in program history.
“I think we have one of the best offenses around, and I feel like we have one of the best offenses in the SEC right now,” junior Will Maddox said. “I think a lot of hitters have just grown up a lot this last year and the last couple of years. We’ve jelled as a team.”
It was the third-year second baseman who delivered the initial blow of the afternoon with a three-run homer to right field in the second inning. The blast was Maddox’s third of his career and gave the Vols (8-0) a 3-0 lead over the Bobcats (0-4).
“It was a pretty fat pitch I got there,” Maddox said. “I hit it pretty good. I’ve been working hard on just staying through balls, and I was able to on that at-bat.”
But it was the at-bat that preceded Maddox’s homer that Serrano felt was just as crucial.
With David Houser on first base, third baseman Taylor Smart laced a 1-2 pitch up the middle that appeared to be a potential inning-ending groundout. However, the ball ricocheted off the second base bag and trickled into right field, allowing Houser to reach third.
That set the stage for the Maddox blast.
“I thought the at-bat by Taylor Smart was the backbreaker,” Serrano said. “Two outs, runner on first — not a good runner in Houser. He gets two strikes on him, gets a ball that shoots up the middle, hits the bag kind of caroms out to right center. Which allows Houser to go to third, which allowed Maddox to come up and get into a ball and hit it over the right field fence.
“Those kinds of things are important, scoring early. You can’t underestimate that at-bat by Taylor right there.”
Both Smart and Maddox’s efforts came with two down in the inning, a theme that quickly grew as the evening progressed. For the game, the Vols hit .533 (8-for-15) and scored nine of their 13 runs with two outs.
“That was important,” Serrano said of the two-out success. “It wasn’t just the two out, RBI production, it was the two outs, nobody on. We get a base hit. We get a double, next thing you know we have two or three on the board. That is huge. That’s the stain in innings right there.
“With two outs, that’s not guys shuffling to find their glove because we’re going on defense. That’s guys believing in themselves — believing in the hitter in front of them and the hitters behind them to keep sustaining innings.”
That scoring spurt in the second proved enough for right-hander Nick Williams (3-0), who for the second straight weekend delivered an impressive performance in a Friday night outing.
The senior hurler tossed an effective seven innings, allowing only two hits and one run with five strikeouts and just a single free pass. His only bit of trouble came in the fifth when Quinnipiac first baseman Vincent Guglietti doubled to right and later scored on an RBI groundout.
Through 18 innings of work, Williams’ ERA now sits at a measly 1.00, but Serrano, however, believed the senior could still have been more effective.
“I’m very critical of my guys,” Serrano said. “I want their expectations to be high. Of his three outings so far, that was probably his least best outing, but it was still a good outing. He was up in the zone more than he has been. His success has been coming with him being down in the zone, but that’s going to happen from time to time.
“The most important thing is that he pitched us to victory, and at the end of the day that’s the most important thing.”
With the Bobcat offense stifled, the UT bats continued their attack in the middle frames, putting up eight runs in the fifth and sixth combined.
Almost everyone got in on the action as Vincent Jackson (2-for-4, 2 RBI) David Houser (2-for-3, 2 RBI) Nathaniel Maggio (1-for-4, RBI) and Scott Price (2-for-5, 3 RBI) all drove in at least one run in either the three-run fifth or the five-run sixth.
“Our focus was good,” Serrano said. “That’s a concern sometimes, when you’re on a roll as a team, and you’re playing good baseball, and then you have a team that you don’t recognize maybe as a powerhouse.
“But it’s still baseball, and you still got to go out there and do things better than the other team.”