Feb. 16, 2013
LAS VEGAS - Tennessee battled UNLV tooth-and-nail in the 2013 season opener, but a two-out rally in the ninth inning just wasn't in the cards as the Vols dropped a back-and-forth affair, 10-9, at Earl Wilson Stadium in Las Vegas.
Trailing by two with two outs and two strikes in the top of the ninth, a hit batter, a walk and an RBI single cut the UT deficit to a single run. Freshman A.J. Simcox then absolutely smoked a line drive on the first pitch he saw but it settled harmlessly into the first baseman's mitt for the game's final out.
"Our heads were down, but I said to [the team] before the game started that tonight's game, this weekend doesn't signify us as a team," UT head coach Dave Serrano said. "If we play that hard and with that much fight every day, things are going to go our way.
"I loved the spirit of the team. You don't panic with a season-opening loss. A lot of good things happened tonight, just the most negative was the scoreboard said they had one more run than us."
Junior Scott Price finished a perfect 5-for-5 at the plate in his Tennessee debut with four singles and a double, while freshman Christin Stewart was 2-for-4 with three RBIs, two runs scored and the first home run of his collegiate career.
Fellow freshmen Vance Vizcaino and David Houser posted two-hit efforts as well. Price's five-hit game was the first by a Vol since both Matt Duffy and P.J. Polk accomplished the feat against Georgia in 2010.
"We had a lot of big contributions from the young guys and that is what the future is going to be," Serrano said. "We have to learn how to win. There were some breakdowns that came out in today's game that we hadn't seen in intra-squad games and that is part of starting the season. We expect those things to happen and you go back and fix them. We hope the experience that they get every pitch, every inning, we can continue to build on."
In all, the Vols started a school-record tying five true freshmen on Friday, in addition to having three other program newcomers in the lineup as well. The five freshmen in the Opening Day starting lineup tied the UT record first set in 1989.
Senior Zack Godley started the game on the mound for the Big Orange, striking out six while yielding five runs on eight hits over five frames of work. Junior Dalton Saberhagen (0-1) suffered the loss for UT as he was hit for two runs in a third of an inning.
The starting pitchers for each team cruised through the first three innings before both squads struck for multiple runs in the fourth.
The Vols staged a two-out rally to crack the scoreboard first, with Stewart lacing a two-RBI single to right center to give the Big Orange a 2-0 advantage. It wouldn't last long though, as the Rebels used run-scoring singles from T.J. White, Joey Swanner and Ryan Scott to jump in front, 3-2.
After a scoreless fifth frame, Stewart got the scoring started once again with his first collegiate home run, a solo shot off the scoreboard in left, which tied the game. Just moments later, a UNLV throwing error allowed another UT runner to cross the plate before freshman A.J. Simcox stroked a single to left for his first career hit and first two RBIs as a collegiate player.
The Rebels answered UT's four-run stanza with a four-run frame of their own however, taking a 7-6 lead through six full innings.
Tennessee refused to back down, immediately regaining the lead in the top of the seventh. Once again, it was the UT freshmen that did the damage as Stewart drew a one-out walk and Vizcaino and Houser followed with back-to-back singles, the second of which brought two runs in to score.
With an 8-7 lead in hand, the Vols were able to hold serve as freshman Trevor Charpie kept the Rebels off the scoreboard in the bottom of the seventh. That was just a momentary reprieve though as UNLV jumped back in front with three runs in the bottom of the eighth, which set up the dramatic top of the ninth.
The Vols and Rebels will be back in action on Saturday with a doubleheader, starting at 4:05 p.m. ET/1:05 p.m. PT. Freshman southpaw Andy Cox will get the nod on the mound for the first game, while freshman right-hander Matt Esparza will toe the rubber for the second game.