Tennessee entered Sunday with a chance to go 3-3 over its last six conference games against defending national champion South Carolina and runner-up Florida.
However, head coach Dave Serrano’s club will have to settle for 2-4 after dropping Sunday’s matchup 8-1.
Fresh off a 5-4 victory on Saturday, Tennessee enjoyed a crowd of 3,322 fans for the rubber match, giving the Volunteers 9,561 in series attendance, which is the second highest in school history.
“It was part of my dream when I came back here to bring back an atmosphere of college baseball and the excitement of the stadium and it’s here,” Serrano said.
“We’re going to get this thing going. I have all the confidence in the world in myself, the coaching staff and the players. We’re going to get this thing going and they are going to be proud that they supported us.”
Things started out on the wrong foot for the Vols almost immediately with a four-run first inning for the Gators that put Tennessee in a hole and it proved to be one from which they would not recover.
“We just got beat. We couldn’t get it stopped early,” Serrano said. “Our starting pitching wasn’t what I expected it to be with Nick Williams. He didn’t come out sharp. He didn’t come out, in my opinion, ready to go from the first pitch.
“This team has a hard time coming back from deficits. We don’t have the firepower to do it. We did that against Alabama. (Florida) is a very good team over there and you can’t give them a four-run lead.”
Florida’s leadoff batter Nolan Fontana singled to right-center field, Mike Zunino was hit by a pitch from Vols pitcher Nick Williams and Preston Tucker singled to right field, creating a bases load situation for designated hitter and Florida starting pitcher Brian Johnson.
Johnson doubled down the right-field line and advanced to third on the throw for three RBIs. Justin Shafer followed that up with a sac fly of his own sending Johnson home to put the Gators up 4-0.
“It’s kind of frustrating,” Vol relief pitched Dalton Saberhagen said. “We wanted to be out there today and we wanted the game real bad and everyone was there. Just started off a little rocky and couldn’t get back into it.”
After nothing going for Tennessee in the bottom of the first, Florida sent Vickash Ramjit to the plate. With a 1-1 count, Ramjit hit a home run over the left-field wall to put the score at 5-0.
After a pitching switch to Carter Watson, things didn’t get much better for Tennessee. A one-run third inning and a two-run fourth put the Gators up 8-0 before another pitching change.
Saberhagen replaced Watson, who finished having pitched 2 2/3 innings and allowing five hits and three runs in 33 pitches. Williams finished with 1 1/3 innings and four hits and five runs on 37 pitches.
“Nick was a great pitcher and it just wasn’t his day today,” Saberhagen said. “He’s one of our best pitchers.”
Saberhagen proved to be a calming affect for the Vols, throwing for three complete innings and only allowing one hit. The Vol defense stepped up including three double plays but the offense just couldn’t get going.
“I had a pretty good performance,” the southpaw said. “Still working on a couple of things. You can always improve. Coach told me you got to stop it. We’ve got to give our offense a chance and so that’s what I tried to do.”
The offense’s lone run of the day came in the bottom of the ninth inning when Will Maddox singled to right field, allowing Chris Pierce to score. The run proved too little too late for the Volunteers.
“We were down early. The bullpen kept it at bay. It didn’t get ridiculous,” Serrano said. “I’m proud of some of the guys I brought out of the bullpen. We kept taking what we call hit by doses, hit by pitches, trying to scrap to get back in the game. We fought for the last run, to get a run in the ninth inning and we made some spectacular plays. There was no quit. I can walk away, not happy that we lost, but proud that we continue to compete through nine innings.”
Tennessee falls to 21-15 overall and 7-8 in conference play. The Vols have yet to be swept this season.