Tuesday's contest against the Austin Peay Governors didn't go like the Tennessee Volunteers had drew it up.
Following a weekend in Columbia, Mo. that saw the Vols pick up their first opening SEC series win since 2005 against Missouri, Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano planned to give some of his regular starters some rest.
That plan, however, went out the window.
It took the Vols 12 innings – four hours and 28 minutes worth of baseball –, but senior Taylor Smart finally put an end to Tuesday's ballgame, as he punched a single through the left side of the infield to score pinch runner Will Maddox and clinch a 8-7 victory for UT in walk-off fashion.
"I faced what I feel was like nine pitchers tonight," Smart said. "They switched pitchers so many times, but when they brought in that next pitcher I actually walked past the umpire and said 'man, I felt like I've seen a ton of pitchers tonight, let's make this one the last one' and he kind of laughed.
"Coach came over to us – me, Will and (Tyler) Schultz – and said we were going hit and run first pitch. We just stuck to it and executed it."
With regulars A.J. Simcox, Nathaniel Maggio, and Maddox out of the starting lineup, the Vols got off to a good start, scoring five runs in the opening third of the game.
From there, though, is were Serrano's plan started to unravel.
In the top of the fourth inning, APSU's Dre Gleason hit a double to right field that got the Govs on the board and kickstarted a five run inning that would tie the game up at 5.
"In the big picture when we gave up that lead, I saw what our plan was as a coaching staff to give some guys some days off – not looking past Austin Peay State – but we know we have another big weekend this weekend and some guys that needed some rest.
"Then, it became a dogfight when they tied it up and we had to go to some guys that we really didn't want to use. We let it slip away, but the bottom line is we found a way to win and I'm very proud of our team for that."
The Vols responded in the next half inning, as sophomore outfielder Christin Stewart crushed a two-run home run – his fourth homer of the season – over the right field wall to push the UT lead back up to two.
Tennessee, however, wouldn't score again until Smart's walk-off single, as they only managed to pick up four hits in the seven innings following the fourth.
"These Tuesday games are grinder games," Smart said. "You come of long weekends playing good SEC opponents and then you got midweek games that are still very important because you can't take anyone lightly.
"We came out swinging hot in the first couple of innings and then hit a little dead spot," Smart said.
But even with hits at a premium, the Vols bullpen put them in position to win the game as junior Peter Lenstrohm and sophomore Trevor Bettencourt combined to pitch three innings, stiking out four and only allowing one run.
This set up Andy Cox, Tennessee's go-to man out of the bullpen, with an opportunity to pick up his third save of the season, but Gleason had other ideas, bringing home Rolando Gautier to knot it up at seven.
The Govs were inches away from taking the lead to start the bonus baseball, as P.J. Torres hit a towering shot to left field that just went foul to leadoff the top of tenth.
From then on, though, sophomore Drake Owenby and junior Josh Peterson shut the door, only allowing Austin Peay to have two baserunners – one off an error – in the three bonus frames.
Owenby and Cox, who have both pitched in closer role this year, were on the list of players that Serrano didn't want to see on the diamond, but with the team in need arms – and a win – late, he was forced to turn to them.
"Drake went 3 1/3 on Saturday and yesterday in his throwing session he had said that he was still feeling a little tight and he really didn't throw that much," Serrano said. "I didn't want to use either one of them today, and when it was 5-0 I thought the plan would come to fruition."
As for the man who started for the Vols, Kyle Serrano, he started the day well, striking out four without relinquishing a hit in the first two innings, but was also the man on the mound for the fourth inning that saw APSU score five runs.
Overall, Kyle Serrano pitched five innings, giving up five earned runs on five hits and four walks, while fanning six.
"I think he took a step forward," said Dave Serrano of his starting pitcher's performance. "If you take out the fourth inning when he gave up five runs, I thought he was crisp. The four walks hurt him, but I thought his stuff was good. I thought he pitched with some confidence finally and we need him. We are going to keep pushing him out there to get that experience because it is going to help us and make us stronger down the line."
But even though Dave Serrano stated that the Vols are "winning ugly right now," he's proud of the way they keep fighting.
"The only thing I can say is that it was our 18th win," Dave Serrano said. "... I can't be disappointed in these guys because what we do is never going to be perfect, but they just keep finding ways to win and to know we've played 20 games and they've been able to come out on top in 18 of them, I commend our guys for that."