KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UTSPORTS.com) –Tennessee baseball freshman and Knoxville native Nick Senzel broke open a two-run game with a grand slam in the seventh inning, and the Vols held onto an 8-7 win over No. 29 UNLV in front of 2,549 fans at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Friday.
With the Vols (5-0) on top 4-2 in the seventh, Senzel came to the plate after the Rebels (4-1) gave Christin Stewart a free pass, and the rookie made them pay. The Farragut High School graduate jumped all over a 1-1 pitch from UNLV's Joey Lauria and smashed the ball over the left-center wall to clear the bases and put UT on top 8-2. It was UT's first grand slam since Ethan Bennett hit on against Alabama A&M on March 15, 2011. Bennett was also a freshman.
Heading to the ninth with a six-run lead, UNLV made things interesting by plating five Rebels, including two with two outs to cut the deficit to 8-7. Coach Dave Serrano turned to sophomore closer Drake Owenby with the tying run just 90 feet away. Looking for his third save in the past six days, Owenby was able to freeze UNLV's Dylan Ellis on a 2-2 count and catch him looking to put an end to the drama.
"It was a wild finish and wilder than I would have liked," said Serrano. "It's a learning moment for our team. We have to learn how to win games and series. I hope what happened at the end of game doesn't hurt us in the long run for this series. Peter Lenstrohm was playing good enough to keep them at bay and get it stopped. Then we wouldn't have had to go to (Zac) Grotz and we wouldn't have to go to Owenby with an 8-7 lead with the tying run on third and the go ahead run on first.
"It is still a process for us. We did a lot of good things today. When you play a team like UNLV, you learn some stuff about your team, and we will go back to the drawing board this weekend. We will work on the little things. I am happy for the win. We beat a good team and a great pitcher, but we have to be ready to go tomorrow."
Senior right-hander and Knoxville native Nick Williams got the nod on the mound for the Vols on Friday and delivered six strong innings. Williams allowed just three hits and two runs, and struck out six in the process to earn his second win of the season. Having thrown five innings of no-hit ball against Purdue last Sunday, Williams opened Friday night with 3.2 innings of hitless action, bringing his total to 8.2 innings to start the season.
"Nick Williams was as good as he has been in my three years with him," said Serrano. "He was in command; he was aggressive. I am real proud of him. He threw five shutout innings last weekend. It kind of shows you his character. He wasn't in the starting rotation the first weekend as a senior. He is a guy that has put a lot of time into this program. He didn't put his head down, and he took advantage of the five innings last Sunday. The only reason I took him out (tonight) was because it is the second weekend and he had 88 pitches. That leadership will go a long ways for this pitching staff."
At the plate, Tennessee was led by a slew of youngsters. Senzel finished the night 1-for-2 with four RBIs and three runs scored, while freshman Nathaniel Maggio was 1-for-2 with a RBI double and a run scored. Sophomore A.J. Simcox continued his hot start to the campaign with a 2-for-4 effort. Senior Taylor Smart also went 2-for-4 and his classmate Scott Price extended his hit streak to 17 games with a single to lead off the sixth inning. Price's streak extends back to April 26, 2013 at Florida.
UNLV's preseason All-American pitcher Erick Fedde took the loss. He threw 7.1 innings of one-hit ball, striking out 11 in his season opener last week. Fedde threw six innings on Friday, striking out seven Vols, but allowing three earned runs and walking three.
Tennessee avenged three one-run losses to the Rebels in Las Vegas last season with tonight's one-run victory. The squads return to the Lindsey Nelson Stadium diamond on Saturday at 1 p.m. UT freshman Kyle Serrano (1-0, 3.60) and UNLV junior John Richy (1-0, 2.45) will face off on the hill.