published Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Baseball Vols stumble

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Tennessee's baseball team has made a habit of playing and winning close games this season.

It caught up to the Volunteers this weekend.

UT was swept in an SEC series for the first time this season after dropping two extra-inning games at Mississippi State on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon.

"That was tough," first-year Vols coach Dave Serrano said after Saturday's 3-2 loss in 14 innings. "There really aren't words to describe what transpired this weekend. We'll go back to the drawing board and have to come up with some things to get this team over the hump of what we've experienced this weekend, but we are not dead in the water."

Getting over the hump in close games hadn't been difficult for the gritty Vols (22-18, 7-11 SEC) this season. UT entered the series 15-7 in games decided by three runs or less, a record that included a sweep of Alabama and wins against quality conference opponents like Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida. Before the Bulldogs' sweep, the Vols were 3-3 in extra-inning games.

UT managed just one run against State starter Chris Stratton, who struck out 10 in nine innings, and Mitch Slauter won the game for Mississippi State (24-16, 8-10) with a sacrifice fly in the 11th inning.

Friday night's game was the lone anticlimactic game of the weekend. The Bulldogs broke open the game with five runs in the fourth and fifth innings off UT starter Robbie Kidd. Again the Vols were shut down offensively, as Kendall Graveman went the distance, allowing just three hits and fanning eight in the 7-1 win.

The series finale was only the fifth game of 14 or more innings in UT program history and first since 1999. The Vols got quality pitching efforts from Nick Williams and Drew Steckenrider, and closer Nick Blount's solid outing (three hits allowed in four innings) was spoiled when his wild pitch scored the go-ahead run in the 3-2 loss.

UT falls into a three-way tie for ninth in the SEC with Vanderbilt and Auburn. After a midweek game against Austin Peay in Knoxville, UT travels to Auburn next weekend. Series remain against the Tigers, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Arkansas.

"It's a tough feeling right now," Serrano said. "It's a horrible feeling to be honest with you, but I think we'll have their attention that there are some details that we need to continue to get better at. It is demoralizing when you look across the field and see a team executing inning after inning when we had some opportunities and didn't execute."

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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