The 100th all-time meeting between Tennessee and Alabama was certainly an eventful one as the Volunteers (16-10, 3-4 SEC) rallied from a six-run deficit, exploding for four runs in both the third and eighth innings, to record a 10-8 triumph in the series opener against the Crimson Tide (9-17, 1-6) on Friday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
"I am very proud of our guys," UT head coach Dave Serrano said. "That is the only thing I said to them in the locker room was how proud I was and how proud this coaching staff was of them. When (Alabama was) up 6-0, I went walking up and down the dugout saying maybe this is supposed to happen for a reason. Maybe we need to find a way to overcome some real adversity and there was no panic, there was no yelling and screaming. There was maybe some frustration, but we got on it offensively and dropped a four. That kept us in the game offensively. We did a lot of good things and in the end they gave us the (two wild pitches), but we will take it any way we can get it.
"We overcame ourselves today," Serrano said. "We have a lot of guys in that locker room right now that are feeling pretty good and confident about themselves, and that there is no deficit we cannot overcome when we play the game together. That is what I want them to feel. I have been a part of wins like this in the past, but this goes up there pretty high for me. How we have been swinging the bats, how we haven't been able to overcome a lot of deficits especially by the amount we were down and to see this team before your eyes grow up is pretty exciting to me."
The Volunteer offense pulled out all the stops on Friday, scoring on a straight steal of home, a pair of wild pitches, two home runs, two groundouts, a bases-loaded walk and a single.
The win over Alabama is Tennessee's third straight, including a doubleheader sweep in Tuscaloosa last season, which marks just the second time since the start of the rivalry in 1897 that UT has recorded three consecutive wins over the Tide. The only other time the Vols have accomplished that feat came in 1994 when they swept a three-game series in Tuscaloosa.
Down by two going into the bottom of the eighth, UT loaded the bases with nobody out after a pair of singles and a hit batter. Tide pitcher Jay Shaw was able to retire the next hitter, but Will Maddox followed with a run-scoring walk before pinch-hitter Wes Walker tied the game with a groundout to third. The Vols tacked on two more as Alabama uncorked back-to-back wild pitches to put the Big Orange ahead, 10-8.
Junior Nick Blount came on in the ninth to record the final three outs for his fourth save of the season and third in the last three games. Sophomore Carter Watson (2-0) picked up the win after striking out two in his only inning of work, while Shaw (0-1) suffered the loss, yielding two runs in a third of an inning.
Chris Pierce, Zach Osborne and Maddox each had three hits for the Orange and White, with Maddox hitting his first career home run and driving in a career-high four runs. All three players were 3-for-4 on the night with Pierce scoring three times and Osborne adding a pair of doubles.
Ethan Bennett also launched a longball for UT, his second of the year. It was Tennessee's first two-home run game since the season opener against Northern Illinois on Feb. 17.
The offenses exploded for both teams in the third inning with Alabama scoring five and Tennessee plating four. The Crimson Tide jumped out to a 6-0 lead thanks to a pair of singles that brought in three runs and a double that scored two more.
The Vols stormed back into striking distance though, getting four consecutive extra-base hits to start the bottom of the third, including a pair of home runs, en route to a four-run inning. Leading off the frame, Bennett launched a 2-2 pitch well over "The Porch" in left for his second dinger of the year and UT's first run of the day.
Osborne followed by ripping a double down the left-field line before Maddox crushed the very next pitch high off the foul pole in right for his first career home run, cutting the Alabama lead in half. Zach Luther made it four straight extra-base hits with a double to left before back-to-back groundouts brought him home and put the tally on the scoreboard at 6-4.
The two teams traded runs in the fourth with Alabama using a pair of doubles to plate one and the Vols getting a bases-loaded single by Maddox to score theirs. It appeared that Tennessee had another run when Luther lifted what looked like a sac fly to center, but the home plate umpire ruled that the UT runner left third base early though, bringing the inning to a close.
Alabama tacked on one more in the fifth but the Vols got it back in the sixth. With one out, Pierce singled to left before moving to third on Osborne's second double of the day. With the pitcher working out of the windup, Pierce took off for home and slid in safely ahead of the pitch and the tag. The straight steal of home put the Vols down by just two at 8-6 and set up the exciting eighth inning. The last Vol to steal home was Khayyan Norfork against Kentucky on May 2, 2010.
"That steal at home was all coach Bergeron," Serrano said. "That was his aggressiveness and that was probably the momentum changer that allowed us to win the game. I think that really got our team the level of help we needed to get back in the game."
Tennessee will go for the series win over Alabama at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Vols will send senior southpaw T.J. Thornton (0-0, 5.25) to the mound, while the Tide will counter with a lefty of their own in Justin Kamplain (1-1, 2.54). The game will be televised on CSS with Bernie Guenther and former UT player Rusty Ensor on the call.
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