Holding a comfortable 9-5 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth, coach Dave Serrano didn’t think twice about turning the ball over to the Vols sophomore closer Nick Williams.
The closer would make things interesting for the Vols quickly.
Ball State batters got a hold of Williams early, rallying for four consecutive singles before a single out could be recorded. It was no secret - the whole crowd could see it. Williams was frustrated with himself.
Kicking the dirt around the mound and punching his glove, Williams looked to be giving up on himself and the team.
Without hesitation Serrano arose from the dugout, raising his hand in the direction of home plate. Stepping over the foul line, Serrano approached his disgruntled pitcher.
What was said is not entirely known, the results – now that’s a different story.
Williams bounced back from his chat with Serrano looking sharp, retiring the next three batters he faced, two of which by strikeout.
Following the Diamond Vols March 7 win against Ball State Serrano explained his visit with Williams.
"That's why I went out to the mound, his body language after giving up a couple of hits bothered me," Serrano said. "I just wanted him to get back on his own side, no need to panic, no need to get down on himself. It's not like he was making bad pitches, in fact I took the blame for it, I went out there and told him it was my fault. It’s true, I made some bad calls on pitches."
Regardless if Serrano’s calls were truly good or bad, he provided his player hope and belief in himself.
“What he said to me stuck with me,” Williams said of Serrano’s late inning visit to the mound. “I knew I had to get this team out of this jam and He [Serrano] reminded me I had the ability to do it.”
Serrano’s ability to build self confidence in his player does not start, or end with Williams.
“I had a chat with coach, he reassured me that I was a good pitcher,” said Vols pitcher Nick Blount following a Feb. 26 start against Seton Hall that saw Blount give up two early runs before settling to record five consecutive innings of scoreless baseball. “After giving up those early runs he really reassured me that I could hang in there, I just need to calm down and pitch for contact, coach reminded me of that. Then I went out there and did it.”
While the Vols have dropped some games to lesser opponents such as Middle Tennessee State and Louisiana – Monroe, Serrano brings something to the new look 2012 Vols team that cannot be measured in wins or loses – promise.
Seen in both instances with Blount and Williams, Serrano has the ability to make his players believe in themselves and, more importantly, the team.
“I love his energy, I love the guy,” Blount said following a win over Northern Illinois on Feb. 18. “I’d run through a wall for that guy and this team, and I know I’m not the only one that thinks that. He has put that mentality in each of us.”
Time will tell, but the Dave Serrano era looks as if it will not disappoint.