KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UTSports.com) -
The Tennessee baseball team is headed back to the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2007. The Volunteers closed out the regular season with a 7-5 victory over No. 13 Florida on Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium to clinch their spot in the postseason.
"We did it," UT head coach Dave Serrano
said. "I didn't expect it to be easy but early on [in the year], I thought it was going to be a little easier than it ended up being over the course of the season. Like I told our guys, I know there are a lot of people out there that are probably wondering why we could be excited about going to a 12-team tournament out of 14 teams, but, gosh darnit, this program hasn't done that for seven years. Things weren't perfect, things will never be perfect, but I feel like we lifted a big cloud that's been over this program for the last seven years.
"I'm so proud of this group because I feel they've now set the bar of what is going to be expected in this program each and every year. When I got this great opportunity three years ago, it was my expectation to go all the time. I realized there was a process to it and, now that we've gotten a taste of it, it will be the expectation of each and every team that comes here from here on out. I commended our players for that."
Tennessee enters the SEC Tournament with an overall record of 31-22, finishing 12-18 in conference play. SEC champion Florida completes the regular season with a 37-19 overall worksheet, including a 21-9 mark in league action.
The Vols will be the 11-seed at the SEC Tournament and will play a single-elimination game against sixth-seeded Vanderbilt at 9:30 a.m. CT/10:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, May 20.
Playing in their "Volstro" uniforms against the Gators, UT remained undefeated in their throwback duds, improving to 8-0 this season.
Sophomore southpaw Andy Cox
moved his record to 5-1 on the year with seven gutsy innings for the Vols, striking out five while allowing five runs on seven hits.
Fellow classmate Andrew Lee
nailed down his fourth save with a scoreless ninth to seal Tennessee's spot in Hoover. A.J. Simcox
tallied a pair of RBIs on two game-tying singles and scored the eventual game-winning run. Vincent Jackson
added a pair of base knocks as well.
The Gators got leadoff home runs in both the second and third innings but the Vols responded both times. After falling behind, 1-0, Tennessee got three straight singles, capped by a run-scoring single by Simcox to tie the game.
Down 2-1 in the bottom of the third, UT got a leadoff single from Will Maddox
before a fielding error by the Florida second baseman and an RBI single by Nick Senzel
Just two batters later, Jackson pulled a base hit through the right side to bring in another run. Simcox was then hit by a pitch to load the bases and Tyler Schultz
followed with a walk to force in another run and put the Vols up 4-2.
After a scoreless fourth inning, the back-and-forth battle continued in the fifth with both teams pushing three runs across. Florida got a pair of run-scoring doubles to go back ahead by a run but the Vols answered right back once again.
Simcox recorded his second RBI single of the day to tie the game and Derek Lance
followed his lead two batters later with a base hit through the left side to put UT back in front as the lead changed hands for the fifth time in as many innings. Maddox would later add a sac fly to push the advantage to two at 7-5.
The Gators threatened to cut into that deficit in the top of the eighth, putting runners on the corners with one out but reliever Kyle Serrano
induced a 4-6-3 double play to escape the jam and keep UT's lead intact.
Lee then worked around a leadoff single and a UT error to put up a zero in the top of the ninth and send Tennessee to Hoover.
With 2,396 fans on hand for Saturday's contest, the Vols finish the season with a total home attendance of 61,550 which ranks as the third-highest total in school history behind the 1997 (64,107) and 2012 (63,084) campaigns.