Moments after Tennessee's Tuesday night loss to East Tennessee State — the Volunteers' sixth defeat in the past seven games — a frustrated Taylor Smart firmly laid out the plan for this weekend's series.
"I don't really care who we're playing," the senior third baseman said. "Doesn't matter who it is — the Yankees, Vanderbilt — I don't really care. Just got to come ready to go and beat somebody."
Well, it won't quite be the Bronx Bombers making a visit to Knoxville, but the Vols do welcome in a daunting squad nonetheless as the No. 7 Commodores (24-6, 5-4 SEC) come to town for a three-game series, beginning tonight at 6 p.m. inside Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
"I see a very good team with a lot of pitching — probably the most pitching of anyone in the country," UT head coach Dave Serrano said Tuesday. "So again, we don't have very much time to feel sorry for ourselves because they're gonna bring in the best arms we've seen all year long."
Headlining that staff is righty Tyler Beede (4-3, 2.47 ERA), a former MLB first-round draft pick and 2013 USA Baseball national team participant. After garnering All-American honors from various media outlets a season ago, the VU junior has turned in yet another impressive campaign this season.
In 40 innings pitched, opponents are currently hitting just .176 off Beede, who is scheduled to start the series opener for the Commodores. In addition, the Auburn, Mass., native is third in the SEC with 46 strikeouts.
"He's going to present a huge challenge for us," Serrano said. "He would've been a challenge if we were swinging like we were earlier — a bigger challenge (now) that we're not swinging the bats that well.
"So we have our hands full, and it's going to be a great challenge for us to rise to the occasion."
Meanwhile — as has been the case for every Friday contest this year — Serrano will trot out senior Nick Williams (3-2, 1.96) in the weekend opener. Freshman Hunter Martin (2-1, 1.14) gets the nod in Saturday's contest, which will be televised locally on CSS starting at 7 p.m.
In Sunday's 2 p.m. series finale, UT's starter is still officially undetermined, but all signs point to first-year right-hander Kyle Serrano (2-1, 5.60) taking the hill in his return to the weekend rotation.
"There's no better time for this team to break out of (its slump) than this weekend," Dave Serrano said. "It's our crosstown rival and a team that's had a lot of success.
" My guess is our guys will show up and fight them tooth and nail to win each and every inning and each and every game."
In order to do that, UT's third-year head man stressed nothing harder than an immediate return of the Vols' lumber, deeming the recent offensive slide a result of "a lot of bad at bats."
In the last four contests — a stretch that's seen the Vols go 0-4 for their longest losing streak of the season — Serrano's squad is hitting just .227 as a team with a combined 27 strikeouts.
"We're facing some adversity right now, and we're not handling it the way we should be," freshman designated hitter Nick Senzel said. "It's tough, but (we) can't hold our heads down.
"We got to pick each other up and move on to this weekend. This weekend's gonna be a tough battle for us."