"He pitched well enough to win. He's had back-to-back great performances. After Jensen came out we lost it," VU Head Coach Tim Corbin said.
The Commodores appeared to be fearless against UT's right-hander Luke Hochevar (1.73) through the first four innings, earning two runs on the ace.
But the Vols showed offensive sparks in the fifth inning. After shortstop Eric King walked, a sacrifice bunt from outfielder Josh Alley put UT on the board 2-2.
The Commodores struck back when Mike Baxter (.388) doubled and advanced to third on an out by Warner Jones (.388). Baxter crossed home on a grounder by third baseman Tony Mansolino (.345), putting the Dores up 3-2.
With Brian Hernandez (.331) and Mansolino advancing to third and second, freshmen Dominic De La Osa (.303) stepped up for the Commodores. After a controversial first strike out call, De La Osa found himself with a 3-2 and two outs on the board. But with two runners on base, De La Osa struck out looking.
UT's Julio Borbon and Chase Headley then scored in the top of the seventh, prompting relief pitcher Ryan Rote to take the mound.
"It was a match up situation. When we got by Alley and Borbone, then it became Rote's game. In retrospect we probably would have gone with Shao before Alley," Corbin explained.
Rote walked right fielder Eli Iorg to load the bases in the seventh. Catcher J.P. Arencibia then earned two RBIs to pull the Vols ahead 5-3.
Following two more stolen bases, Rote was relieved by sophomore Stephen Shao.
"The seventh inning doomed us," Corbin said. "It started with a 3-1 pitch to Alley and hit the ball hard. Headley did a nice job. They did a good job of battling a pretty good pitcher. They got their five runs and that was difference."
The two stealers crossed home to put the Vols up 7-3. UT would go on to score one more run after De La Osa hesitated in throwing a grounder to home.
The eighth inning brought changes in the Commodore line-up. Garza, who had taken Shao's place in the outfield was replaced by freshmen Alex Fienberg in the batting line-up. After Fienberg struck out swinging, junior Bill Kleinschrodt took Garza's place in left field.
The Commodores added one more run by Shao in the ninth inning, but the effort was too little, too late. Despite four errors by UT, the Vols won the contest with a decisive 8-4 victory.
"We spotted well pretty much the whole night except for a few pitches, they're just a good hitting team. We battled, but in a game like that it came down to one or two pitches," Lewis explained.
The Dores will face the Vols for the second game of the series Saturday night at Hawkins Field at 6 PM.