Feb. 11, 2007
KNOXVILLE -- It was exactly the start the Vols -- and Lance McClain -- needed.
Even if it didn't begin exactly as they'd hoped.
McClain bounced back from a disastrous start at Florida State and Tennessee recovered from a disappointing loss on Saturday, beating Eastern Michigan 5-1 on Sunday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium to win its first series of the season.
"I think that's the best game we've played so far," UT coach Rod Delmonico said.
It might have also been the best start of the season for any Vol -- and it was certainly the best of McClain's young career at UT.
After the sophomore lefthander worked his way out of trouble in the first inning, McClain cruised through seven more innings, holding the Eagles offense to seven hits and one run while throwing just 97 pitches.
Three of the hits and the lone run came in the first inning, but McClain limited the damage after putting Eagles on first and third with no outs and didn't allow more than one hit in a frame for the rest of the game.
"I got in trouble in the first but it was big to get out of that and not let them have a big first inning," McClain said. "I just tried to throw strikes and let my defense play.
"I got a couple double plays turned, the infield played great, the outfield played great, and I think it was just a good all-around game."
The Vols battled back in the bottom half of the inning, scoring three times after Danny Lima led-off with a single and scored on Cody Brown's line drive to center field. Ryan Jones and Shawn Griffin each drove in runs in the first, giving McClain all the support he would need.
"Lance didn't pitch that well last week, but I thought he really threw well today," Delmonico said. "He just took command of the game.
"Last week was just a bad outing. He's pitched well all spring and all fall, but he's got great stuff and a good mound presence. He had some things kind of get away from him last week, we didn't make a couple of plays and it just sort of snowballed.
"That's the way we've seen him pitch all year, so that didn't surprise me. We know he can pitch. It's just a matter of him going out there and doing it. We just needed to get him back out there and throw again."
Jones said he was just as anxious to get back out and hit again, and he showed up early on Sunday to take extra batting practice and help the Vols avoid losing their second series of the season.
The work paid immediate dividends, as the sophomore right fielder drove in the go-ahead run in the first inning with a double to the gap in right-center field. Jones would double again in the fourth inning and score, finishing 2-for-3 and adding a stolen base.
"I felt good," Jones said. "I took a couple of extra swings today before the game in the cage because I felt like I haven't been hitting the ball as well as I can and that helped me out seeing the ball.
"This was definitely an important win for us. We have a very good ball club, and with all the depth that we have with guys that aren't in the lineup right now, with Julio (Borbon) and Jeff Lockwood a little tender, we have the potential to be really good. But we needed to go out and get this win."