Tori Bailey began the decisive play about 40 yards out towards midfield, dribbling to the middle of the pitch, beating a pair of Commodore defenders and uncorking a left-footed shot from just outside the top of the 18-yard box that traveled into the upper left corner of the net.
Big Orange freshman goalkeeper Julie Eckel made seven saves in improving to 12-4 overall, breaking former Lady Vol Ellen Dean's Tennessee single-season rookie GK victory record of 11 set way back in 1998.
UT out-shot the Commodores by a 16-13 count and 8-7 on shots on frame, while recording a dominant 9-2 advantage on corner kicks.
"It was a heck of a battle," Lady Vol Head Coach Angela Kelly said. "Credit to Derek Greene (Vanderbilt Head Coach) for the things he and his staff are doing at Vanderbilt. They've had a couple of injuries as of late and are very well organized.
"They posed problems for us in the attack as well as in the midfield. Every single match in the SEC is tough. I've been saying that since day one. Tori Bailey, you say her name and it brings a smile to my face. She does all the dirty work and helps save us in the back. She's just phenomenal. I don't think I mention her enough."
After a long period of midfield action and a few short forays into opposing territory it proved the Commodores with the match's first scoring opportunity. At the 11:44 mark following a corner, the ball ended up in the possession of VU midfielder Emily Grant out on the left wing. She moved slightly towards the middle and fired a shot from 15 yards out that bent just inches outside the left post.
Tennessee's first shot of the contest came 17:31 into the first stanza as senior forward Chelsea Hatcher fired a drive towards the lower left corner from just outside the top of the 18. Vanderbilt keeper Brittanie Barbaro proved up to the task, however, by making a diving save near the left post.
Off a quick counter the Big Orange got a great chance from the left wing by Hatcher in the 25th minute as her blast from about 14 yards out was bobbled briefly but caught by Barbaro.
The initial corner of the match for the Lady Vols came at 37:27 following some solid work near the left end line by sophomore forward Caroline Brown. Off the cross to the middle by senior midfielder Emily Shore, a bouncing ball ended up in the possession of junior midfielder Kylie Bono out on the right side. The Yorba Linda, Calif., native attempted a left-footed shot, but it was blocked by her marker and cleared by the VU defense.
The Big Orange's Brown managed to earn another corner during the 42nd minute, this one near the right end line. Unfortunately, a header attempt in the middle of the 18 by Hatcher traveled well high of net for a harmless goal kick.
Perhaps the most dangerous chance of the opening half came with just seconds left off a long throw-in from the right side of the pitch. UT's Hatcher tossed the ball into play and, off a little ricochet, it ended up at the feet of Shore just a step inside the 18. The Gainesville, Fla., product fired quickly at 44:54, but her drive skimmed just inches over the crossbar to bring the first half to a scoreless close.
VU had the first pair of scoring chances out of the locker room. A shot from just inside the 18 by Ashley Oswald at 46:42 was stopped on a bounce by Eckel. Then another try by Oswald at 49:19 from 17 yards out in the middle missed wide, nearly scraping the outside of the right post.
During the 55th minute Hatcher crossed a ball from the left wing to the left post that Brown managed a sliding tap on, but VU keeper Barbaro managed to smother the effort at point-blank range.
Tennessee managed a trio of dangerous shots off a corner at 56:35. Junior defender Ali Hall had a header from inside the 18 blocked, and Brown had both a shot from the left wing blocked and then forced a Barbaro diving save on a right-footed blast from 12 yards.
The corners continued to come for the Lady Vols but the net remained untouched as UT came close once again at 61:38. A feed from Bono near the right end line was back-heeled by Brown but traveled just outside the right post.
Dowd located some space in the middle of the 18 during the 65th minute, but her drive on frame was corralled by Barbaro on a short hop.
Eckel came up with her fourth save of the contest at 68:36 as a free kick from a dangerous position on the left wing was bent into the middle where Vanderbilt's Amanda Essay headed the ball right into the Tennessee's keeper waiting arms.
What appeared to be a cross from the right side by Commodore midfielder Duggan Hahn at 72:12 turned into a spectacular save by Eckel as the Cordova, Tenn., native dove to her right and managed to tip the shot just over the cross bar.
Another golden chance went by the wayside in the 79th minute for the Big Orange as Brown worked hard to earn a free kick just a yard outside the top of the 18. The Hershey, Pa., product took the kick from the dangerous position, but her drive was tipped just outside the left post by Barbaro. Off the follow-up corner, Dowd fired from a sharp angle out on the right side, but her shot from 15 yards ventured high of frame.
The scoreless dead-lock was finally broken at 83:45 on a tremendous individual effort by Bailey. The Fenton, Mich., native received a free kick from Hall back towards midfield. She began dribbling up the pitch from about 40 yards out, moved from the right into the middle, beat a couple of VU defenders and fired a left-footed shot from the top of the box that just managed to tickle the twine inside the upper right corner to give UT a vital 1-0 lead.
From there the Big Orange kept the ‘Dores from registering a single shot over the last 5:15 to secure its 12th victory of the campaign.
The #14 Tennessee Lady Vol soccer team next plays a rare Thursday match on Oct. 20, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., against the Alabama Crimson Tide at 8 p.m. ET.