The starting pitching was good. The freshman mistakes weren’t extremely costly. The offense had its moments.
Yet when the weekend concluded, it was Arizona State (4-2) who walked away with a 2-1 series victory, outlasting Tennessee (2-5) 5-1 Sunday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium behind another strong pitching performance and two timely home runs.
“It’s frustrating after two series to have to continue to tell the team that we’re going to be okay,” head coach Dave Serrano said. “I’m a firm believer that there comes a time when we need to take that (next) step, and we just may not be there yet. As much as everyone in that locker room doesn’t want to believe that, we may still be some steps away.”
While impressive Sun Devil mound work highlighted Games 1 and 3 — both Tennessee losses — the Volunteera discovered some offensive consistency in Saturday’s contest, banging out ten hits en route to an 11-2 victory. Sophomore leadoff hitter Will Maddox headlined the production, garnering a .364 average with 3 runs scored and 2 RBIs for the weekend. In addition to the success at the plate, the Gainesville, Ga., native turned in more than sufficient work defensively at third base throughout the series.
“I just need to find a way to get on base because I know we have good hitters behind us,” Maddox said after Saturday’s win. “(We) just need to find ways to score runs, and that’s what we did tonight.
“We strive off of good defense and our pitchers throwing strikes and giving us plays,” Maddox added after Sunday’s loss. “We did a good job of (making defensive plays) today.”
While the Tennessee offense actually outscored Arizona State 12-11 on the weekend, it was the Sun Devil bats that made all the difference at just the right times.
Sophomore outfielder Trever Allen provided the crucial blow in Game 1 with a three-run homer in the fifth off Tennessee starter Zack Godley. The blast was all Arizona State right hander Trevor Williams needed, limiting Serrano’s squad to just three hits and seven base runners on the night for his first win of the season.
In the series finale, Allen was at it again, cranking a two-run homer in fourth off Volunteer starter Andy Cox that provided the difference in the game. Sun Devil junior James McDonald produced his own two-run blast an inning later, giving Arizona State starter Ryan Kellogg more than enough support for his second win of the year.
“When I look back, probably the difference in this series was that seven of the eleven runs came on three different swings,” Serrano said. “The three-run home run Friday night that I thought was a good pitch by Zack Godley, and two two-run home runs today that I thought Andy Cox spotted up right where he was supposed to, and they put a good swing on it.”
“We played better teams this year to start off with, which is going to make it better in the long run,” Maddox added. “We’ve had some tough losses, but it’s going to make us better in the future.”
Despite the disappointing results, Serrano sees plenty of positive signs that emerged with this young squad, especially within the pitching staff. Freshman reliever Drake Owenby fired four shutout frames in Saturday’s victory, headlining a bullpen that only allowed one run in 12 2/3 innings of work. In addition, no starting pitcher allowed more than four runs, a position where Serrano hopes some consistency begins to develop.
“We’ve got a lot of talented players,” Serrano said. “Who does well in practice and performs when they get the opportunity, we’ve got to stick with that, and go with that for a while.
I don’t think we’re that far off,” Serrano added. “We lost the series bottom line, but we’re not that far off from where I believe we are going to be very soon.”
The number of people rooting for this team’s success is nonetheless overwhelming as Sunday’s finale put the final stamp on a record-setting attendance weekend. The Volunteers drew the most fans in a home opening series ever as the three day total of 6,508 surpassed the old record of 6,111 set in 2011.
Tennessee is back in action on Tuesday as they take on ETSU at 3 p.m. at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.