The UT baseball team relied on a smallball approach to try to eke out another dramatic victory, but baserunning miscues and no extra-base hits all game led to a 5-4 loss in 10 innings at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Tuesday.
    
The team was attempting to tie the record set for best start in school history, 8-0 in 1992 and 2003, but the Vols (7-1) needed two rallies to do it, and they only came through with one.
    
In the bottom of the ninth, the Vols were down 4-2, with men on second and third and two outs. UT third baseman Zach Luther hit a groundball to the shortstop, sure to finish the game in regulation.
   
 However, Middle Tennessee first baseman Ethan Williams came off the bag to catch the ball. Rather than stepping on the bag for the out, Williams attempted a tag. Luther barreled into the first baseman, knocking his glove — and the ball inside — to the ground. Luther was safe, two runs scored and the game was tied.
    
As he saw the play unfold, Luther said he had to make a decision.
    
“The first baseman went up the line,” Luther said. “So I had two options: to try to go through him or to slide to the outside. And he came up on me, so I just put my shoulder down a little bit.”
    
The error was not the first of Williams’ night. In the bottom of the eighth, UT shortstop Zach Osborne hit a groundball to second base. Middle Tennessee second baseman Johnny Thomas made a running stop and, jumping, threw the ball to first base. The only problem was the first baseman, Williams, was not looking. The ball sailed past him, toward the Vols’ dugout.
    
Luther called his play in the ninth inning indicative of the kind of season the Vols are having.
    
“This happened a couple games now, where last minute, we find a way,” Luther said. “We battle, and that’s what we need later on in the season.”
   
 However, unlike the previous two extra-inning wins the Vols have in the young season against Western Kentucky and Seton Hall, the Vols came up on the losing end against Middle Tennessee (5-3).
    
Middle Tennessee answered the Vols’ rally in the very next frame. Middle Tennessee centerfielder Ryan Stephens hit a two-out, RBI base hit up the middle to put MTSU back on top, 5-4. The Vols failed to muster a baserunner in the bottom of the 10th.
    
UT head coach Dave Serrano said he hates the cliché that teams need to lose, in order to wake up and adjust, but he said that might be the case with this loss.
    
“Losing will never be accepted in this program anymore,” Serrano said. “I don’t care who it’s against. I want losing to hurt. I want them to hate losing more than they like winning.”
    
Even during the 7-0 run, Serrano said the coaching staff saw signs that the winning streak was about to end.
    
“We were 7-0, feeling really good about ourselves,” Serrano said. “And it’s a mid-week game at 4 p.m., Middle Tennessee, in-state team, we knew that it was going to be a game we needed to come out and play our best game of the year, and we didn’t. And it caught up with us.”
   
 Despite the low-scoring game, he said the pitching was not the team’s best.
    
“We were up in the zone,” he said. “We were behind in the count. We allowed them to get too many good passes. And we did make baserunning blunders, and we missed a lot of signs.”
    
Early, the Vols found success with smallball, including back-to-back bunt singles in the first inning that led to the Vols’ first score.
    
However, once the Vols found themselves down 3-2 in the sixth, the offense had a harder time clicking. In the sixth inning, UT designated hitter Jared Allen hit a base hit past the shortstop but was caught stealing. In the seventh inning, UT catcher Wes Walker started the inning off with a five-pitch walk but was caught stealing, as well.
    
Even with the difficulties, Osborne and Luther called smallball the key to the ignition of the Vols’ offense.
    
“We have to stay with the smallball and stay smart on the basepaths,” Luther said. “And that’s where our offense takes place. That’s where we’re strong.”
    
Luther said this loss hurts, not just because it is the team’s first of the season, but because of the way it happened.
    
“This one definitely stings because I feel like we beat ourselves,” Luther said. “And the whole team knows that too. It stings, especially the first loss, but you just got to take the positives and what you can learn.”