Both teams' singles lineups featured three freshmen Sunday, and the clutch performance of Tennessee's rookies proved to be the difference.
Vols freshman Ockie Oosthuizen capped off an impressive regular season by clinching UT's victory. The No. 114-ranked South African overcame a one-set deficit to defeat Bama freshman Eric Molnar 1-6, 6-0, 7-5.
"Alabama had a few injuries and had to withdraw its No. 1 player," UT head coach Michael Fancutt said. "But they still fought hard, and we're happy with the victory. To win anywhere on the road in the SEC is big.
"Ockie (Oosthuizen) clinched the victory for us, and I believe that's a big step for him. As a freshman, that was a great win in a pressure situation."
Tennessee swept the doubles portion of Sunday's contest, marking the 17th time in 20 dual matches this season that UT has won the always-important doubles point and the sixth time the Vols have swept all three matches.
Alabama was dealt another blow when its top player, senior Stephen Mitchell, suffered an injury during doubles and was forced to withdraw from singles competition. Without the nation's No. 34-ranked collegiate singles player, each netter in the Crimson Tide's singles lineup moved up one spot, and freshman Mike Green was inserted at the No. 6 position.
Singles scoring began when Green posted a straight-set win over UT freshman Matt Berry to even the team score at 1-1, but Tennessee frosh Kiril Tcherveniachki put the Vols back on top by routing Alabama senior Christian Brodersen 6-0, 6-3 at the No. 5 spot.
Tennessee junior Mark Dietrich added even more luster to his remarkable return from a broken leg by working his way back into the No. 2 singles position and edging Bama's Joseph Jung 7-5, 6-2. Dietrich's overall singles record since returning to the Vols' lineup Feb. 20 stands at 10-4.
Down 3-1 with three matches still up for grabs, Alabama got a win from R.J. Murray at the No. 4 spot. Murray downed UT junior Damien Spizzo by a score of 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.
Oosthuizen then secured the win for Tennessee, and the Crimson Tide added a point at the No. 1 position when junior Chris Gostek defeated No. 33-ranked Vols senior Simon Rea in a hard-fought third-set tiebreaker.
With the victory, Tennessee now owns a 28-12 advantage in the all-time series with Alabama, dating to 1934.
Sunday's match marked the conclusion of Tennessee's 2004 regular season. The Vols travel to Nashville later this week to take part in the SEC Tournament. Vanderbilt plays host to this year's event, which takes place Thursday through Sunday at the Brownlee O. Curry Tennis Complex.
No. 15 Tennessee 4, No. 35 Alabama 3
1) No. 17 Rea/Spizzo (UT) def. No. 54 Gostek/S. Mitchell (UA), 2-2 (ret.)
2) Oosthuizen/B. Rogers (UT) def. Jung/Murray (UA), 8-4
3) Dietrich/W. Orr (UT) def. Green/Molnar (UA), 8-6
Order of finish: 1, 2, 3
1) Chris Gostek (UA) def. No. 33 Simon Rea (UT), 7-6, 3-6, 7-6(5)
2) Mark Dietrich (UT) def. Joseph Jung (UA), 7-5, 6-2
3) No. 114 Ockie Oosthuizen (UT) def. Eric Molnar (UA), 1-6, 6-0, 7-5*
4) R.J. Murray (UA) def. Damien Spizzo (UT), 7-5, 1-6, 6-3
5) Kiril Tcherveniachki (UT) def. Christian Brodersen (UA), 6-0, 6-3
6) Mike Green (UA) def. Matt Berry (UT), 6-2, 6-2
Order of finish: 6, 5, 2, 4, 3*, 1
* Clinching point