A broken record, the continuation of an undefeated season and an all-encompassing celebration that had those in pinstripes in a hefty state of jubilation.
All were achieved in one swift swing of Taylor Smart’s lumber.
The senior third baseman delivered a game-winning single in the 10th inning, giving the No. 28 Vols a 4-3 win over Quinnipiac Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Game Two of the series.
UT's victory is the ninth straight in 2014, marking the best start to a season in the program’s 104-year history.
“I actually didn’t know that until last night," head coach Dave Serrano said. "It was my youngest son that told me that. I don’t get into records very much. They’re great for the guys …We’re just trying to build on what we’re doing here.”
After Taylor Schultz and Will Maddox were both intentionally walked to load the bases with one out in the tenth, Smart smacked a hanging curveball into left field that scored pinch runner Johnny Youngblood.
“They left some balls up (in the at-bat),” Smart said. “I put some good swings on them — fouled some balls off — but he left them hanging at the end right there and I capitalized.
“There was a lot of adrenaline going, but I just tried to stay within myself.”
The pressure-packed tenth inning finished off UT’s late game rally that spanned over the final three frames. Quinnipiac (0-5) led 3-1 after seven innings, but the Vols (9-0) railed for single runs in the eighth and ninth as well as the tenth.
“It wasn’t easy,” Serrano said, “but we passed, and I commend our guys for that. They’re not quitting. There not perfect — they never will be perfect — but they keep fighting.”
In the eighth, outfielder Vincent Jackson (2-for-3, RBI) delivered a run-scoring single to right that plated shortstop A.J. Simcox and cut the UT deficit to 3-2.
The following inning, though, it was Simcox (2-for-5) who supplied the all-important knock.
With Smart on third base and the Vols down to their final out, the Knoxville sophomore ripped an opposite field single that tied the score 3-3.
Up until that point, the Vols were 0-for-9 at the plate with two outs, but delivered in the most crucial of situations — a theme Andy Cox feels must continue as the season progresses.
“These are the kind of wins we’re going to have to have come SEC play,” Cox said. “Those one-run games are the games were going to have to (have) because when SEC starts but its more (likely) going to be a closer game.”
It was Cox (2-0, 0.50 ERA) who enabled the UT comeback upon entering in the fourth inning in relief of Vols starter Andrew Lee. With Quinnipiac having already scored three runs in the first two innings, Cox stifled the Bobcat offense fo the remainder of the day, surrendering just two hits in 6 2/3 scoreless frames.
The sophomore notched a career-high eight strikeouts as well.
“Andy is deserving of being in this rotation,” Serrano said. “I told him that. But he’s my wildcard right now. When you go through a weekend series, there’s always going to be someone that’s not on their ‘A’ game, and you need that guy that’s going to plug that gap to get the ball to someone at the end of the game.
“I can’t say when we move on that Andy’s not going to be a starter by the middle of the year — the end of the year — but he’s pretty valuable to us right now.”
Cox — who started against Appalachian State on Feb. 19 but tossed 5 1/3 no-hit innings out of the bullpen in his last outing — said he feels rather comfortable in a relief role.
“Coming out of the bullpen is helping me out,” Cox said. “I feel loose, I feel relaxed … I came out and just picking teammates up, that’s what coach always talks about. I was pounding the zone, getting ground balls and letting my defense work for me.”
Cox’s stellar outing was nearly matched frame by frame by Quinnipiac starter Justin Thomas, who allowing just two run s (one earned) and six hits in eight innings of work. The bobcat lefty threw 120 pitches in the process, missing out on a win with UT’s comeback effort.
“This was like the College World Series for them,” Cox said. “They’re gooned out. They’re ready to play. They’re going to come and not let up easy on us. They’re going to give us they’re best effort, and I respect the way they played today. They played hard.”