HOUSTON -- It was the early part of fall workouts when Tennessee coach Dave Serrano realized he might have something special in junior right-handed pitcher Zack Godley.
Like every other Volunteers player, Serrano strongly vowed to start everyone with a clean slate. That meant not looking at statistics from the Vols' miserable 2011 season. That, of course, also included refusing to watch Godley or other players on video.
It's a good thing Serrano isn't into making assumptions. Godley, who had a strong fall and early spring workouts, shined on Saturday as the Volunteers defeated Texas, who dominated Rice on Friday, to the tune of 5-4.
"I was excited to give him [Zack] this opportunity. He has been pretty mellow through this whole day and he hadn't started a game in his Tennessee career," Serrano said. "Texas made him pay for some balls up in the zone at times, but he stayed within himself."
The first thing that stuck out about Godley was his size. Though he doesn't have the perfect prospect body, he certainly is an imposing figure. He stands at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, and really did a good job of commanding the strike zone.
Godley had a fastball that sat in the 87-89 range, while his curveball was impressive at 73-75. But it was his 78-82 changeup that was his most effective pitch against the Longhorns.
"HIs curveball was great, but the pitch that separates him from his past was the changeup," Serrano said. "He got smart after he saw Texas the first time around and noticed they were swinging early in the count. He stuck it into the zone and got some swings."
Overall, Godley struck out three batters and allowed just three runs on eight hits in seven innings of work. He also threw 47 of his eight pitches for strikes.
"I hadn't thrown my changeup much in the past, going mostly slider and curveball, but I went to the changeup more than usual in this one. I'm just glad I had that working for me," Godley said. "I was glad they were swinging at the first and second pitches a lot."
Time will tell if the Volunteers are able to keep up their winning pace, sitting at an impressive 8-2 after the win over the Longhorns. But Godley just might be the poster player for this program.
As a sophomore in 2011, Godley tallied a respectable 3.38 ERA, but did so as a reliever with 28 appearances. This season, he has materialized into a solid starting pitcher, and perhaps someone the Vols can soon lean on as a Friday night pitcher in the SEC.
"I think in the last year, I've minimized myself. I've held myself back a little bit. Last year, I was all about throwing hard and not pitching. It's the opposite this year," Godley said. "I'm more of a pitcher this year, as opposed to just a thrower."
Progress continues to be the name of the game at Tennessee.
RICE'S RECKLING SHOWS NEW WAYS
It's evident Rice starting pitcher Matthew Reckling has taken a major step forward this season.
Throughout his career with the Owls, Reckling has always shown the type of stuff that would have some scouts drooling and opposing coaches shaking their heads. But in many past instances, Reckling let inconsistency get the best of him, holding him back from being the premier pitcher he has the ability to be.
For at least one inning in a 6-2 win over Texas Tech on Saturday, Reckling went back to his old ways. But just an inning later, he resorted to his welcomed new ways -- consistency.
"The first inning was just terrible, but I kept my composure and knew I had to get stronger and better the rest of the way," Reckling said. "I can't tell you the last time I didn't have my breaking ball, because I usually put guys out with it. But today the changeup was huge and I felt like it got me through the game."
In Rice's Houston College Classic opener against Texas, ace pitcher Austin Kubitza only lasted 1 2/3 innings, displaying control issues not usually seen from him. And like Kubitza, Reckling started Saturday's game with similar issues. He wasn't throwing through with his pitches, and the Red Raiders made him pay with two runs and two hits in the first inning. Tech left the bases loaded.
"You never know what happened, but he obviously wasn't as sharp as he has been in the past," he said. "[After the first] I just told him he's not really letting the ball go. He's just guiding the pitch, let it go, trust yourself, and that's it. Like Kubitza, he's still working through problems at times."
Reckling was solid after the first inning, finishing the contest with three strikeouts and allowing just two runs on four hits in 6 2/3 innings. Interestingly, the two runs given up to the Red Raiders were the first runs he had given up the entire season.
In previous starts, Reckling struck out 11 in 8 1/3 shutout innings against Dallas Baptist, while he struck out seven and allowed just four hits in six shutout innings against Florida International.
"At least today, I was pleased with my pitchability, but not my stuff. But everyone has those kind of days," Reckling said. "Being a senior, I have to be a leader. The pitching staff needed me to go seven or eight innings, and I needed to find my way through it without my best stuff."
Stuff-wise against the Red Raiders, Reckling was 88-92 with his fastball, 80-82 with the changeup and 76-77 with the curveball.
Though Reckling didn't start Saturday's contest on a positive note, he settled down and made the best of his situation. He wound up putting together yet another impressive start.
It's yet another sign of the new and improved Matthew Reckling.
HOUSTON PUTTING THINGS TOGETHER
You'd never know the Houston Cougars were 4-4 entering the Houston College Classic by the way they've played in the first two games against Tennessee and Arkansas.
On Friday against the Volunteers, senior right-handed pitcher Jared Ray put together an outstanding start, striking out a career-high 10 batters in a solid 7-4 triumph. Meanwhile, the offense did their job with catcher John Cannon leading the way with three hits and three RBIs.
On Saturday against the highly-ranked Hogs, the story was much of the same for coach Todd Whitting's Cougars, it all starting with left-handed pitcher Jordan Lewis having an impressive start.
"I thought he [Jordan] was outstanding. He's kind of a guy that never really looks like he's settled in, but you look on the scoreboard, and he hasn't given up any runs," Whitting said. "I thought Lewis and his off speed pitches were a really good matchup for Arkansas, because it's a pretty aggressive offense. He never really left anything over the plate and did a good job of pitching around the middle of the plate."
Lewis did a great job of keeping the Razorbacks off balance throughout the afternoon. He had a fastball sitting in the 87-90 range with an upper 70s curveball that was devastating on the inside half of the plate to right-handed hitters.
Overall, he struck out three batters and allowed just a run on four hits in six innings of work, also throwing 60 of his 98 pitches for strikes.
"I had almost everything working for me today, I thought," Lewis said. "Later in the game, I started to leave my pitches up a little bit, but it was fine."
The Cougars could be in good shape with their weekend rotation moving forward. Senior Jared Ray continues to make strides, and Lewis has improved over last season, where he compiled a 3.75 ERA in 81 2/3 innings of work. Meanwhile, the Cougars have an ultra-talented No. 3 starter in freshman Aaron Garza. Garza will be a force this spring, assuming he can be consistent.
Lewis and the Cougars like the direction the pitching staff is headed.
"I know what's it like to pitch on a consistent basis now after being in a D-1 program for a season," he said. "Things are a little bit more at ease with me this season. And overall, I have a lot of confidence in our pitching staff. I think we'll keep it up."
Lost in the mix with Lewis throwing so well was the outing put together by Houston right-handed reliever Codey Morehouse. Morehouse relieved Lewis after the sixth inning and pieced together three solid innings of work, striking out four and allowing just two runs.
"I thought Morehouse was awesome," Whitting said. "He was a candidate to be our closer entering the season, but he's had a little elbow trouble. If he can give us an outing like that once a week, we'll certainly take it.
For now, the Cougars seem to be headed the right direction.
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball managing editor for Perfect Game and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org