Dave Serrano admitted the matchup could have been disregarded — simply overlooked for the more aesthetically-pleasing road trip that sits just on the horizon.
But despite the highly-anticipated series that awaits this weekend at Arizona State, No. 19 Tennessee firmly gave La Salle its full, undivided attention Tuesday night.
The Vols (11-0) homered three times and allowed just two Explorer base runners after the third inning en route to 14-0 win over La Salle at a chilly Lindsey Nelson Stadium — the first of a two-game midweek series.
"The mindset is — and we talked about this as a team before the game — this is an easy series to look past," Serrano said. "The first road trip (is this weekend) — guys are excited. Some guys have anxiety about the travel. We're going to play Arizona State. We're going to a warm climate.
"So it's easy to look past. I'm excited at how the team performed tonight to win 14-0 in a game we could have easily looked past."
After two scoreless frames, Serrano's squad erupted in the third with a four spot off La Salle starter Freddy Andujar (0-4). A.J. Simcox brought home two with an RBI single to center, and sophomore outfielder Christin Stewart capped off the scoring frame with the Vols' first homer of the evening — a two-run towering moonshot to right field.
That scoring spurt alone provided more than enough support for UT's six pitchers, headlined by starter Hunter Martin (1-0), as La Salle (1-10) mustered only three hits the entire evening — none from the fourth inning on.
Martin, who was UT's opening day starter on Feb. 16 but hadn't pitched since then because of shoulder stiffness, was sharp in his return, tossing three innings of three-hit ball with four strikeouts and zero free passes.
"The shoulder felt really good today," Martin said. "That first outing it got a little stiff in the third inning, but I've been working to get it back healthy. So today it felt really good getting back out there. I think it's a process inning-wise, but I think the stuff was there.
"It's fine giving up hits because I'm pitching to contact. It's all good to give up a hit here and there, but other than that, I felt really good today."
Serrano indicated that while Martin's next outing will likely come out of the bullpen against Arizona State, the freshman hurler won't be pushed out of the starting rotation because of injury.
"Hunter hasn't lost his spot as a pitcher in this starting rotation," Serrano said. "He'll be in relief probably Saturday and Sunday. We'll use him in that role to build his pitch count back up and eventually get him back in that rotation.
"I think he's earned that right. He hasn't lost it just because he had a little soreness. He established that again tonight with three good innings. He still wasn't at his best, but he gave us three good innings.
"We'll find a spot for him. You can never have too much good pitching."
The UT offense resurfaced in the latter frames, scoring its final 10 runs between the sixth and eighth innings. The long ball action came in the seventh as both Scott Price and Will Maddox went deep within minutes of each other.
On the first pitch of the inning, leadoff man Price launched his second home run of the season – the ball cleared the right-center field fence and quickly disappeared into the frigid Tennessee night.
Two batters later, with Simcox (3-for-5, 2 RBI) on first following his second single of the evening, Maddox turned on a 1-1 pitch and hammered his second long ball of year well over the right field fence, pushing UT's lead to 9-0.
The Vols, who produced just 13 long balls in 2013, have more than half that through 11 games this season. Tuesday's performance upped UT's 2014 home run total to seven and signified the Vols' first three-homer game since May 11, 2011.
"We're going to hit some balls over the fence," Serrano said. "As the weather gets warmer, I think we're going to start seeing (more home runs). It's not what we emphasize our game on — we're going to steal bases, we're going to execute.
"But we have enough good athletes and good hitters in our lineup to start seeing (some home runs). ... Maddox, Stewart and Price got into those balls pretty good, and they're going to go out on any kind of day in this ball park."
The Vols return to action this evening against La Salle in the series finale. First pitch is slated for 6 p.m. with UT hurler Bret Marks set to make his season debut.