Feb. 20, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - After erupting for 16 runs on 19 hits on Opening Day, the Tennessee baseball team took a while to get going offensively on Saturday. It came at just the right time though, as the Volunteers scored three in the bottom of the ninth, capped off by a walk-off, two-RBI single by freshman Cody Stubbs, to edge Xavier, 7-6, and clinch the team's first series victory of the season.
"I knew that somebody was going to come up with a big hit, but I was getting to the point where I was getting a little nervous," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "For Cody (Stubbs) to step up there and come through in the clutch like that is huge, especially with Cody Hawn out this weekend. He's going to be a terrific player for us and today was just a perfect example of what he brings to our team."
Before the offensive heroics in the final inning, the Tennessee bullpen was the star of the show, as senior Steve Crnkovich, junior Spencer Clifft and sophomore Will Locante combined to twirl five innings of one-run ball to give the Big Orange time to get back in the game.
"The bullpen did a great job today," Raleigh said. "They really kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win at the end. We just told them to keep the ball down and we would be fine. That's exactly how it played out."
With a perfect frame in the top of the ninth, Locante earned his first victory of the season, while redshirt freshman Alex Vice took the loss for the Musketeers after allowing three runs in two innings in his collegiate debut. Juniors P.J. Polk and Josh Liles continued to pace the Orange and White offense, notching three hits each for the second consecutive day. The game also marked the first career starts for freshmen Chris Fritts and Drew Steckenrider.
After struggling to find their rhythm offensively for most of the game, the Vols found themselves entering the bottom of the ninth trailing by two, 6-4. The good news was that the Big Orange had three of its most productive hitters ready to step up to the plate. Junior Khayyan Norfork, who had a team-best four hits on Friday night, led things off by walking on four pitches. He quickly moved up 90 feet when Vice failed to come set and was called for a balk and Polk put runners on the corners with a single on a sharp line-drive to center.
With the tying run at first base, Liles moved UT within one on the scoreboard with an RBI single to left that scored Norfork and placed Polk on second. Although Musketeer Head Coach Scott Googins switched pitchers, bringing sophomore Shane Liska in from the pen, in an attempt to halt the bleeding, Tennessee was able to take advantage of a wild pitch on a curveball in the dirt to put the game-winning run on second with nobody out.
Liska then quickly fell behind in the count to junior Blake Forsythe, 3-0, forcing Googins to make the call to intentionally walk him to load the bases and set up the force play. The tactic did not work, however, as Stubbs pulled a 1-1 offering to right-center for a walk-off single, plating Polk and Liles to end the game with UT as the victory.
"It was great to be able to win the game like that," Stubbs said. "You grow up dreaming about going to play college baseball and getting to win games and today was a great one."
As good as it ended, the start of the game did not go quite as Tennessee had scripted it, as Xavier struck for two runs in the top of the first to grab its initial lead of 2010. Although sophomore Steven Gruver got the day started off on the right foot for the Big Orange, striking out two of the first Musketeer hitters looking, a walk and three consecutive singles gave XU the early advantage.
Polk led the game off for UT with a sharp groundball to third, but it was corralled by Patrick Paligraf who gunned down the speedy runner at first. Liles followed with a single up the middle past the glove of a diving Drew Schmidt at second, but was caught trying to steal second for the second out. XU starter Tommy Shirley then got Forsythe to swing at a looping curveball to end the inning.
Xavier kept applying the pressure in the second inning, as Phil Bauer dropped a double down the left-field line to lead off the top of the stanza. A bunt by Mark Elwell then moved him up 90 feet to third before an RBI groundout by John McCambridge brought him home. The Vols meanwhile, were kept at bay by Shirley who sent them back to the bench 1-2-3 in the bottom part of the frame.
Following a strong inning by Gruver, Tennessee finally got on the board with a two-spot in the third. Steckenrider got things going with a leadoff walk and sophomore Zach Osborne followed with a double off the base of the wall in left-center. Norfork then scored his second RBI of the season with a groundout to short that allowed Steckenrider to trot home easily and Polk ripped an opposite-field double to plate Osborne. The Musketeers were able to escape further harm, however, as they caught Polk at third trying to stretch his hit into a triple and Shirley fanned Liles to end the inning.
Xavier continued to extend its lead with another run in the fourth on a bunt single and a long double, and two more tallies in the fifth when Bobby Freking blasted a two-run home run to left after a leadoff single by Ben Thomas. At that point though, the Tennessee bullpen simply took over and kept the Musketeers off the scoreboard for the remainder of the game.
While the bullpen was putting zeroes up on the board, the UT offense was trying to claw its way back into the game. It definitely had its chances, getting leadoff runners on board in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. The Vols even loaded the bases with nobody out in both the sixth and seventh, but were able to come away with just one run in both frames.
In the sixth, Polk and Liles started the inning with back-to-back singles before Forsythe was hit for the third time already this season to bring Stubbs up with the bags juiced. He would foul out on a 3-2 pitch, however, and relief pitcher Brian Muransky would come on to get Duffy swinging at a trio of curveballs for the second out. Although a wild pitch allowed Polk to score, the damage was mitigated when Steckenrider was caught looking at a 1-2 curveball on the outside corner.
Clifft proceeded to sit XU down quietly in the top of the seventh, keeping the Big Orange within striking distance. UT attempted to mount another big inning in the bottom half of the frame when Muransky hit Osborne square in the back with an 86-mph offering, tagged Norfork in the foot with a curveball and moved both runners up 90 feet when he bobbled the ball transitioning into the "set" position and was called for a balk. He then walked Polk on five pitches before Googins brought Vice in to make his collegiate debut with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Although he allowed Liles to record a sacrifice fly that brought the Orange and White within two at 6-5, the Cincinnati, Ohio, native was impressive in his initial appearance, holding the Vols at bay for the remainder of the frame by getting Forsythe to pop up to short and Stubbs to ground out to second.
After neither team was able to get anything going in the eighth inning, Raleigh called upon Locante to finish out the game on the mound and give his offense a chance in the ninth. The 6-0 lefty from Memphis did just that, sitting Xavier down in order in the top half of the frame to set up Stubbs' heroics in the bottom half.
Tennessee will go for the series sweep against Xavier at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Senior right-hander Stephen McCray will toe the rubber for the Vols, while freshman Jon Richard will make his collegiate debut for the Musketeers.