KNOXVILLE -- Dave Serrano emerged from the clubhouse a satisfied man.
Tennessee's first-year baseball coach wants to rebuild a broken program on the foundation of pitching and defense, and that's what he got Sunday afternoon.
"I think this was our best game of the year, to be honest with you," Serrano said after the Volunteers' 10-2 win against Seton Hall at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. "I'm very proud of them for that. In my mind, I keep trying to prepare them that we can't get complacent, and I thought we got a little complacent in Saturday's game early on.
"But I thought from the first pitch today we were prepared and ready to play. I just thought we were on it as a team from the first pitch."
The three-game sweep of the defending Big East Conference tournament champion Pirates gave UT its seventh straight win to begin Serrano's debut season, and this team can match the 2003 Vols for the best start in program history with a win Tuesday against Middle Tennessee State. The first showcase opportunity for these new-look Vols is next weekend at Houston College Classic, where they will play Houston, Rice and Texas at the Astros' Minute Maid Park.
UT is one of the country's 14 remaining unbeaten teams, along with SEC rivals Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina and perennial powers Rice, Miami, Stanford and Southern Cal.
"They're feeling really good about themselves. They're enjoying success and they don't want it to go away," said Serrano, who took California-Irvine and Cal State Fullerton to the College World Series. "I know reality. I'm aware of reality, but why not ride this and continue to feel good about ourselves? You can't be good unless you feel good about what you're doing.
"I think we've got a group of young men that have a goal in mind, and that's to be the best team they can be. They're proving it each and every day."
The Vols proved it with defense Sunday. They overcame five errors in Saturday's 11-inning win but were perfect on easy and hard plays Sunday. Chris Fritts made a spectacular grab on a slicing ball in center field, and the Vols recorded 16 outs on ground balls.
"Our team really works off our defense and being very sound defensively," said Fritts, who hit a two-run triple in the sixth. "It boils down to that. Thinking back to those games that we had errors, they were just stupid, just little [mistakes]."
Starter Nick Blount induced 13 ground-ball outs in six innings of work. The 6-foot-6 junior right-hander was efficient, throwing 47 of his 66 pitches for strikes. Freshmen Joseph Vanderplas and Conner Stevens and sophomore Dalton Saberhagen combined for three perfect innings of relief.
"The infield was great," Blount said. "They were just making the plays, and that's what I try and do. I'm not a strikeout pitcher by any means. Contact, get ahead and get ground balls."
Senior shortstop Zach Osborne had three hits, drove in a run and scored three times. Freshman outfielder Jared Allen from Polk County smacked a two-run double in UT's four-run first inninig. The Vols executed Serrano's pressure offense with six stolen bases, bunts and aggressive baserunning.
The schedule's difficulty will increase and some losses are likely to ensue, but Serrano's approach certainly is paying early dividends.
"I like it," Blount said. "I think we're all adapting well to his style of play, and I think if we keep doing that, we should do good the rest of the year."
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 ...