Freshman right fielder Christin Stewart wasn't around for Tennessee's dramatic 13-inning win over Western Kentucky last season.
It was a game that saw fans sit through nearly five hours of frigid temperatures and bitter winds before the Volunteers finally came away with the win.
As Wednesday's contest versus the same Sun Belt foe seemed to be heading in a similar direction, the Lawrenceville, Ga., native made sure this year's game didn't go quite as long. Stewart took a fastball off the right tricep with the bases loaded, forcing in the winning run as UT (9-7) gutted out a 5-4 victory in ten innings at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
"(A walk off hit by pitch) is not something you see every day, but whatever gets the job done," Stewart said. "When I saw the ball coming in I was just like get out of the way, but we always practice staying in there, staying in the box, not giving an inch and taking the pitch."
The game-winner came three batters after the Diamond Vols tied the game, producing a run with only one ball leaving the infield. After left fielder Parker Wormsley reached on an error, second baseman Jeff Moberg ripped a single to left, putting runners on the corner with only one out. Leadoff hitter Taylor Smart then brought in the run with a bunt single that Hilltopper pitcher Ian Tompkins mishandled.
"We'll take it. We'll take it every day of the week, especially when we're fighting back to get our record back to a respectable level," head coach Dave Serrano said. "For a team that's trying to find their identity, I'll take this kind of win."
Wednesday's contest saw Tennessee leave 15 runners on base and have a player successfully picked off in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Serrano, however, didn't mind the ugly victory.
"I compliment our guys because it would have been easy to deflate a little bit, but we stayed with (the game) and got rewarded for (our effort)," Serrano said.
Sophomore Will Maddox, a lineup catalyst all season, got the scoring started in the first, stealing both third and home after reaching on a bunt single. The hit extended the third baseman's hit streak to a career-high 11 games.
The Western Kentucky bats seemed destined for another quiet evening as freshman Andy Cox stifled the Hilltoppers' offense through four innings, allowing just five base runners on four hits while striking out one.
"I'm really proud of how (Andy Cox) is growing up," Serrano said. "I want to put him in situations where he can have some success. I was very happy with his composure today, and how he jumped ahead and how he stretched his arm when he got ahead."
Western Kentucky junior right fielder Jordan Cessna finally ended the scoring drought with a fifth-inning blast into the left field porch, trimming the Volunteer lead to 2-1. The homer seemed to be the jumpstart Matt Myers' squad needed as it was followed by a stolen base sandwiched between two singles to tie the score.
Tennessee answered back in the sixth, when three wild pitches brought home freshman Vance Vizcaino. The lead only lasted two innings, however, as the Hilltoppers tied the game at three in the eighth with three consecutive two-out singles. This created a deadlock that would last until extra innings.
"It's a good win. It's a sloppy win, but now we've strung five straight wins in a row," Serrano said. "The confidence level is going up a little bit in the dugout, and it's a good feeling going into our first SEC game."
The Vols will travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., this weekend to open up conference play with a three-game series against the Alabama Crimson Tide.