KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Behind eight solid innings from junior Zack Godley, Tennessee snapped No. 2 Kentucky’s 22-game winning streak, the longest in the nation, and handed the Wildcats their first loss of the season with a 4-1 victory on Friday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“That was a good win,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “I’m not trying to minimize beating the last undefeated team but [I just see it as] beating another opponent in the SEC and getting to .500. That’s the way I look at it. I mean, don’t get me wrong. To know that we are the first team to beat the last undefeated team is special, but it’s more the fact for this team to be 2-2 now in the SEC and feeling pretty good about themselves after three hard-fought, close baseball games that we found a way to win all three of.”
Godley tied his career high with eight innings of three-hit ball against the best-hitting team in the SEC, retiring 21 of the final 25 batters that he faced after allowing a first-inning run. He struck out four and walked two in the contest to improve to 4-1 on the year.
“Zack has really turned into a very grounded young man,” Serrano said. “Zack and I have formed a pretty special relationship of trust. I really feel every time he gets the opportunity to pitch that we are going to get a pretty good outing and I feel he trusts me and the pitches that I’m selecting.
“I felt good about him tonight. I felt like it was a good matchup. I felt like he just stayed within himself. I thought his side throwing was good. He was back [after losing last week]. It was like he just let it go, like no big deal. Okay, you didn’t pitch well last week and now it’s another week. It’s kind of how I want our guys to respond. I want them to have a little amnesia where they just let it go.”
Junior Nick Blount closed out the contest with a scoreless ninth to pick up his first save of the season. UK starter Taylor Rogers (4-1) was the tough-luck loser after allowing just two runs on three hits in 6.1 innings of work.
The three hits for Kentucky marked its lowest hit total of the season as the Wildcats entered the contest leading the league in virtually every offensive category, including batting average, hits, runs and RBIs.
Tennessee’s four runs came on just four hits, all singles, as the Vols utilized a pair of sac bunts, two stolen bases, two hit batters, a pair of walks, a balk and a passed ball to earn free bases throughout the game.
With its third consecutive win and first win against a team ranked among the top two in the nation since it took two of three games at then-No. 1 LSU in 2009, UT’s record moves to 13-8 on the year and 2-2 in SEC play. Kentucky becomes the final team in the nation to lose a game, falling to 22-1 overall and 3-1 in league contests.
The two teams traded tallies in the opening frame with the Wildcats striking first on a two-out RBI single by A.J. Reed. The Vols answered right back in the home half of the frame though as Will Maddox was hit by a pitch and moved to second on a balk before coming home to score on a single to left by Davis Morgan.
Following three scoreless frames, the Volunteers grabbed the lead in the bottom of the fifth. Once again, UT got a leadoff baserunner as Drew Steckenrider singled through the left side, advanced to second on a groundout and then stole third without a throw. Zach Osborne then drove in the eventual game-winning run and put UT up 2-1 with a groundout to his counterpart at shortstop.
With Godley continuing to deal for the Volunteers, Tennessee got to the UK bullpen in the seventh after Chris Fritts reached second with one out following a hit-by-pitch and a sac bunt. Wildcat reliever Reed escaped the jam, however, getting a strike-him out, throw-him out double play to end the frame.
The Wildcats biggest threat came in the top of the eighth when Austin Cousino drew a one-out walk and Luke Maile blasted an 0-2 pitch from Godley to left. The ball just stayed in the park, however, with Steckenrider making a leaping grab up against the wall in front of “The Porch,” to end the stanza.
A slide by Ethan Bennett kept a UT rally alive in the bottom of the eighth, allowing the Vols to plate a pair of insurance runs. After Bennett walked to lead off the inning and moved to second on a sac bunt, Maddox bounced a chopper back to the mound. The UK pitcher went to third on the play, but Bennett was able to avoid the tag and slide in safely. Chris Pierce then followed with a perfectly executed safety squeeze to increase the Tennessee lead to two.
Just moments later, UT took advantage of a passed ball on a swinging third strike by Morgan, as Maddox came in to score on the play to make it 4-1, providing a little breathing room for Blount who came in to get the final three outs in the top of the ninth.