March 7, 2012
Steckenrider did a little bit of everything on Wednesday, scoring three runs, launching his third home run of the year and striking out five of the six batters he faced on the mound.
Tennessee had four different players record multi-hit contests on Wednesday against Ball State (Drew Steckenrider, Chris Pierce, Ethan Bennett and Jared Allen)
The Vols pounded out a season high five doubles in the contest, in addition to a triple and a home run for a total of seven extra-base hits, also a team high for the year.
After allowing three runs to Ball State in the top of the first, Tennessee rattled off seven unanswered runs through the first three innings.
Steckenrider needed just 25 pitches, 20 of which were strikes, to get through his two innings on the mound, striking out five of the six batters that he faced.
With Tennessee leading by just one run, Steckenrider gave the Vols a little breathing room in the bottom of the sixth, absolutely crushing a 1-0 offering from Miles Moeller to left-center for a two-run home run, his team-leading third of the year. He finished his day at the plate 2-for-3 with three runs scored, two RBIs and a pair of walks.
In addition to his efforts in the batter's box, Steckenrider followed his longball with two perfect innings on the mound, tying his career high by striking out five of the six batters he faced in the seventh and eighth innings.
"I sure would love to see that Drew Steckenrider each and every time because that was pretty special," Serrano said. "I don't know what the (radar gun) readings were and it doesn't matter what the readings were. I knew that he was coming in throwing a fastball by a lot of guys and he looked really special not only pitching but at the plate, too.
"I think Drew has thrown good at times and he threw great tonight. Like I said, if we can get 90 percent of what he did tonight the majority of the time, it's going to make it a lot easier for us to have success."
Sophomore Nick Williams then came on to close out the contest in the ninth, retiring three straight hitters after the Cardinals loaded the bases with nobody out, to record his third save of the season and seventh of his career, placing him in a tie for eighth on the UT career saves chart with Joey Andrews (2002-05) and Danny Wiltz (2006-09).
Freshman Robbie Kidd picked up his second career victory with 2.2 innings of scoreless relief, striking out two. Jared Allen and Ethan Bennett each had a pair of doubles for the Big Orange, while Chris Pierce tallied his fifth multi-hit contest of the year, tying him with Steckenrider for the most on the squad.
"Robbie was kind of wobbly early on and then he settled down and got with himself," Serrano said. " Robbie has had some rough outings the last week. We fixed some mechanical stuff with him and I think he is back on it now."
Ball State jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the top of the first thanks to a three-run home run on to "The Porch" in left by Cody Campbell. The Vols responded to the blow with a couple of quick jabs of their own though, plating two in the bottom of the frame on a balk and stand-up triple to the corner in right by Chris Fritts.
The Big Orange added another run in the second on a two-out RBI single by Zach Osborne before exploding for four runs in the third. Pierce and Steckenrider led off the frame with back-to-back singles before a throwing error on a sac bunt by Fritts allowed Pierce to score from second. The Vols then got run-scoring doubles from Allen and Bennett as well as an RBI groundout by Will Maddox to take a 7-3 advantage.
The Cardinals refused to go down without a fight, however, answering with three runs of their own in the top of the fourth to move back within one at 6-5. The Vols didn't help their own cause much, walking two and allowing a run on a wild pitch. Ball State also scored on a triple by Elbert Devarie and an RBI groundout by Sean Godfrey.
After Steckenrider's sixth-inning shot put the Orange and White up 9-6, the Cardinals kept battling all the way to the end, scoring another run and loading the bases with nobody out in the top of the ninth. Williams was able to buckle down, however, striking out consecutive batters before inducing a groundball to second where Maddox made a diving play in shallow right to end the game.
"The game came down to a ball stung, and I said it to the (Ball State) coach when I shook his hand that those guys played hard," Serrano said. "They didn't come in with a great record but I had told the team before the game that teams come in here and want a piece of you. It makes their season to come into an arena like this and play well, but [Will] Maddox saved our life with a play like that at the end of the game."
Tennessee improves to 9-3 on the season with the win while Ball State falls to 2-7. The Vols will return to the diamond this weekend when they host a three-game set against Louisiana-Monroe, beginning at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 9.