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VOL. 132 | NO. 95 | Friday, May 12, 2017

New AD Fires Shot Easily Heard at Nelson Stadium

By Dave Link

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Tennessee coaches of all sports were alerted last Thursday when Sam Winterbotham was fired after 11 seasons as the Vols’ men’s tennis coach.

Starting catcher Benito Santiago was hitting .246 with 20 RBI before being suspended for violating team rules.

(Jerry Denham | The Ledger)

No doubt UT baseball coach Dave Serrano got the alert. He could be next in line.

John Currie has been on the job as Tennessee’s new athletics director since April 1, and he’s already fired a coach who was far more successful than several other current UT coaches. Like Serrano.

Barring a big run in the coming weeks, UT’s baseball team will miss the NCAA tournament for the sixth year with Serrano as coach and the 12th season overall. The Vols didn’t reach the SEC tournament in Serrano’s first two years as coach, and the past three seasons were eliminated in first-round.

Tennessee (24-19, 7-15 SEC) is sixth in the seven-team East Division with two SEC series left: at Kentucky this weekend (May 12-14) and at home against Missouri next weekend (May 18-20). Kentucky (32-16, 15-9) is second in the East and Missouri (29-20, 9-15) is fifth going into the weekend. (Records are through Sunday, May 7 games).

Only two of the 14 teams in the SEC don’t qualify for the league tournament May 23-28. UT has the 12th best record in the SEC after last weekend’s games ahead of Georgia (7-17) and Alabama (5-19).

Tennessee split two SEC home games last weekend against Arkansas (35-13, 14-9), which is third in the SEC West going into the weekend. UT and Arkansas only played two games due to rain. Tennessee won the first game 5-4 – it was delayed from Thursday night until Saturday morning – and lost the second game 2-0 Saturday afternoon when Arkansas’ Trevor Stephan threw a one-hitter.

I’m sure Currie was monitoring, as he will be the rest of the baseball season.

Departed athletics director Dave Hart gave Serrano a one-year contract extension last May despite his 130-138 (48-99 SEC) record in five seasons.

Currie fired Winterbotham despite his 217-104 record (72-54 SEC), three total SEC titles and an appearance in the NCAA championship match in 2010. Winterbotham, the 2013 ITA national coach of the year, had a year left on his UT contract and will receive his annual salary of $181,873, paid in monthly installments, unless he takes another job.

UT’s tennis team went 13-14 this year for its second consecutive losing season, but beat Kentucky in the SEC tournament for its fourth consecutive win before losing to Texas A&M. After going 0-12 in the SEC in 2016, UT’s tennis team was 3-9 in the league’s regular season this year.

Two sub-par seasons apparently cost Winterbotham his job with Currie in charge. Will Serrano make the next cut? Will several coaches in fall sports make the cut? Stay tuned.

As Serrano’s sixth season at UT comes to a conclusion, here’s what to keep an eye on:


Rodgers, a senior from Memphis University School, played primarily first base last year and was sixth on the team with a .282 batting average. He’s moved to third base this year with 41 starts there through 43 games (he played shortstop one game). After the Arkansas series, Rodgers has a .977 fielding percentage and has made three errors in 42 games (all starts).

Batting primarily third in the lineup, Rodgers is hitting the team-highs in average (.360), RBIs (31), homers (tied, seven), and slugging percentage (.552). He’s played all but one game this year.


Starting catcher Benito Santiago and center fielder Brodie Leftridge began serving a suspension for violation of team rules after the 8-1 loss to Auburn.

Leftridge, a junior from St. Johns College High in Baltimore, made a return off the bench in the 9-2 win over East Tennessee State, entering as a pinch runner and staying at center. He played only the first game of the Arkansas series, entering as center after the rain delay. After hitting .302 as a part-time starter in 2016, Leftridge has slumped to .191 this season and has just eight RBIs.

With Leftridge out, freshman Justin Ammons has moved from left field to center, and senior Matt Waldren taking over at left. Waldren is hitting .209 in 31 games with 11 starts. Ammons is hitting .263 (fifth on team) in 40 games, all starts.

Santiago, a junior from Coral Springs Christian Academy and Pembroke Pines, Florida, was hitting .246 and had 20 RBIs when suspended (his 20 RBIs still ranks third on the team). He had 32 starts (24 at catcher, eight at designated hitter). Entering this season, Santiago had a .257 career average in 86 games (70 starts).

Freshman Pete Derkay and redshirt sophomore Danny Sirven have taken over at catcher with Santiago suspended. Derkay, who’s from Altoona High in Acworth, Georgia, is hitting .291 (third on team) with 15 starts at catcher. Sirven, a sophomore from Miami who spent a year at Chattanooga State Community College, is hitting .125 with four starts at catcher.


Fifth-year senior Jeff Moberg has bounced back from a season-ending knee injury in 2016 and been one of the Vols’ top hitters in the leadoff spot (37 games). The Vols’ starting second baseman is hitting .328 (second on team) with 29 RBI (second on team) and is second behind Rodgers in runs scored (29). He’s tied with Rodgers for the team-high seven homers, has made seven errors this season and has a .965 fielding percentage.

Last year, Moberg was hitting .415 and was leading the nation in runs scored (28) through the first 16 games before suffering the knee injury during a mid-week game against UNC Asheville. The former standout at Vista Murrieta High in Murrieta, California, was one of eight graduating seniors last spring, and in his first game back with the Vols, went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs in the season opener against Memphis.

It’s been an up-and-down career for Moberg. As a freshman in 2013, he played in 36 games with 26 starts: 16 at second base, five in left field, and four as the designated hitter. He played in 15 games the next year and hit .188, and in 2015 played in 15 games and hit .167.


Twin brothers Luc and Andre Lipcius of Lafayette High in Williamsburg, Virginia, have emerged as impact players as true freshmen.

Andre Lipcius has started 42 games at first base and is fourth on the team with a .280 average. His 19 RBIs ranks fourth on the team. Luc has taken over as the starter in right field for Dom Thornton, a junior who’s hitting .236. Luc is hitting .315 in 24 games with 11 starts (nine in right, two at designated hitter).

The twins originally hadn’t planned to play college ball together. However, after Andre committed to the Vols and UT showed some interest in Luc, he committed as a preferred walk-on. Luc is majoring in nuclear engineering, and getting into that program allowed him to get in-state tuition.


Senior right-hander Hunter Martin (5-5, 3.15 ERA) of Murfreesboro Blackman had a tough-luck April, but it took a turn for the better against Arkansas.

After starting the game Thursday, Martin came back last Saturday morning and got the win, going 6.2 innings and allowing eight hits and four runs (three earned) in the 5-4 win.

Martin’s 0-3 record in his last three starts of April wasn’t indicative of his pitching. In a 4-3 loss to Auburn, Martin went nine innings and allowed seven hits and three runs (all earned). In a 2-1 loss to Texas A&M, Martin went 8.1 innings and gave up seven hits and both runs (earned). In a 1-0 loss to Vanderbilt, Martin threw his third consecutive complete game and gave up four hits and an earned run. (Vanderbilt’s Patrick Raby, who played at Farragut, allowed five hits and no runs over eight innings and got the win.)

Martin is the probable starter for Friday’s opener at Kentucky.


Right-hander Garrett Stallings is having a breakout freshman season.

Stallings (3-2, 2.85 ERA) entered the Arkansas game with the second-most innings pitched (54) on the team behind Martin’s 73.1 He got the start in last Saturday’s second game and went 6.0 innings and gave up six hits and two runs, both earned, in the 2-0 loss.

He’s been a starter for the Vols’ last six SEC series.

As a high school senior, Stallings posted an 8-2 record and 1.13 ERA with 86 strikeouts and four walks in 66 innings. He was rated the No. 6 right-hander and No. 9 overall player in Virginia by Perfect Game as a senior.


Four pitchers from the Knoxville area are at different stages of their UT careers.

Eric Freeman of Farragut is a redshirt junior right-hander; Kyle Serrano of Farragut is a redshirt junior right-hander; Will Neely of Hardin Valley Academy is a sophomore right-hander; and Zach Linginfelter of Sevier County is a true freshman right-hander.

Serrano, son of Dave Serrano, has left the team for “personal medical reasons,” according to an April 21 tweet from the Vols’ official account. Kyle Serrano was 0-2 with a 3.72 ERA in 9.2 innings this year. He missed almost the entire 2016 season with an injury requiring Tommy John surgery. As a high school senior at Farragut, Serrano was rated the No. 1 prospect in the state and No. 7 right-handed pitcher in the nation by Perfect Game.

Freeman (1-0, 3.78 ERA, one save), who missed his senior season at Farragut due to Tommy John surgery, has appeared in seven games and thrown 16.2 innings. Last year, Freeman appeared in 22 games and posted a 3-1 record and 3.00 ERA in 54.1 innings. He appeared in one game as a redshirt freshman in 2015.

Neely (3-1. 4.09 ERA) has thrown 44 innings this year. His wins are against Memphis in the season opener, and ETSU twice. As a true freshman last year, Neely went 1-3 with a 3.96 ERA, striking out 29 and walking 18 in 52.1 innings. As a senior at Hardin Valley, Neely was rated the No. 2 right-hander pitcher in the state by Perfect Game and helped the Hawks win the Class AAA state championship.

Linginfelter (3-4, 3.62 ERA), has pitched 49.2 innings and has 55 strikeouts and 20 walks. He picked up the save in Saturday’s 5-4 win against Arkansas, retiring the only two batters he faced, one by strikeout. As a senior at Sevier County, Linginfelter was the 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Tennessee when he went 7-2 with a 1.70 ERA.

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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