Both Tennessee baseball and softball have gained national attention for their hot starts to the 2017 season.
Friday, however, both teams suffered losses in the middle of their respective homestands.
The baseball Vols (9-2) hosted the Cincinnati Bearcats, falling 2-1 despite an all-around solid performance from the Tennessee pitching staff.
Starting pitcher Hunter Martin (3-1, 3.68 ERA) gave up a home run to deep right-center field in the first inning to the Bearcats' Connor McVey. Martin would go on to strike out six Cincinnati hitters over six innings.
Volunteers catcher Benito Santiago responded in the second inning with a bomb of his own to right field to tie the game 1-1.
Cincinnati took the lead for good in the fifth inning. With runners on first and third, the Bearcats sent their runner on first during a Hunter Martin pitch. Santiago faked out the runner on third by feigning a throw to second base, which ended up going to Martin. Martin, however, was not able to catch the toss, and Cincinnati's Jace Mercer scored from third on the play.
"We had set that up when I went to the mound," Coach Dave Serrano said after the game. "We didn't play catch there. It was almost like [Martin] wasn't anticipating the baseball. It wasn't a bad throw, it's the way he approached it, so to lose a game on a defensive play like that early in the game is tough for me to take."
Reliever Kyle Serrano took the mound for the Volunteers Friday for the first time since February 2016. Serrano had Tommy John surgery on March 10, 2016; exactly one year later, he made his comeback. Serrano promptly struck out the side in order on 18 pitches.
It's been a long road for the redshirt junior reliever, who admitted to being anxious before his appearance.
"I'd say I've had some ups and downs," Serrano said. "I wasn't expecting anything less out there to be honest with you. I've been throwing the ball pretty good. I'm just trying to go back to using my experience like I've been out there all season.
His father, the head coach, was encouraged by Serrano's performance.
"It would've been a lot nicer if we'd have won the game," Serrano said. "Ultimately, as much as I love my son and love all my players, a win's more important than a performance but it was. I won't deny as a father, when they announced his name in the seventh inning I got a little goosebumps and a little emotional."
Tennessee and Cincinnati will play a doubleheader Saturday starting at 12 p.m., in anticipation of severe weather Sunday
Tennessee softball (19-3), however, suffered a much harder loss to South Carolina in UT's SEC opener. The Gamecocks run-ruled the Vols, 9-1.
Freshman Caylan Arnold (8-3, 1.55 ERA) started the night cold. The Maryville High School alumna but only lasted 2.2 innings, giving up a grand slam and a two-run home run.
Tennessee pitchers gave up a combined eight walks Friday.
"Frankly what happened is our pitchers couldn't throw strikes," Coach Ralph Weekly said. "We'll just have to talk about pitch selection tomorrow and come back and see what happens."
The Tennessee bats were frozen all night, too. A team that was averaging just fewer than eight runs per game ended up leaving ten runners on base.
The Vols and Gamecocks will play both Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. ET to wrap up the three-game series.
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