Feb. 21, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee scored early and often once again on Sunday, as it finished off a three-game sweep in its season-opening series over Xavier with a dominating 17-1 victory at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The Volunteers put the game out of reach with an eighth-run fifth inning, punctuated by a pinch-hit grand slam by sophomore Charley Thurber, the first by a Big Orange player since 2003.
"Xavier has a good program-- they didn't lost three in a row at all last season," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "That was a great sweep for us. It's important for our guys to learn how to play all three days. Some people think some of these games are automatic--but they aren't at all. Look around the SEC this weekend and a lot of teams just won two of three. We have some young guys but we have some with a lot of experience, too. Sweeping this series definitely gives us a lot of confidence."
Offensively, the Big Orange pounded out 17 runs on just 13 hits on Sunday, to finish with a total of 40 runs over the course of the three-game series. That total marks the highest since the squad tallied 47 runs in sweep of Radford, March 11-13, 2005. Junior P.J. Polk continued his weekend offensive onslaught, recording his third-straight three-hit game to improve his season batting average to an astounding .750 (9-for-12). He also added an RBI on a sacrifice fly and picked up a stolen base.
"I just took what the pitchers gave me," Polk said. "I didn't try to do too much with the sliders or even the fastballs. Being opening weekend, I had to try to keep my excitement down and just do what I know I can do.
"All off-season we have been talking about trying to set the table for guys like Blake Forsythe and Cody Hawn and Matt Duffy to drive us in. We did a great job of getting on base this weekend and letting those guys do just that."
In addition to his pinch-hit grand slam, the first for a UT player since Justin Branson accomplished the feat against Georgia on April 11, 2003, Thurber also notched a single later in the game to give him a 2-for-2 effort with four RBIs. Junior Blake Forsythe, meanwhile, was 2-for-3 with a double, two singles and three RBIs, while fellow classmate Matt Duffy rapped out a pair of hits and knocked in a pair of runs as well.
Senior starter Stephen McCray earned his first victory of the season with a solid 5.1 innings of work on the mound. The 6-4 right-hander did a good job of keeping the ball down, inducing a total of 12 groundball outs and allowing just three balls to leave the infield. He allowed just three hits and one run, while striking out one and walking one. For the second straight day, the Tennessee bullpen was nearly flawless as three relievers combined to twirl 3.2 innings of one-hit baseball.
"I pretty much just went out there and had fun," McCray said. "I was able to keep the ball down and my team was behind me--they were outstanding. I can't even tell you how many plays they made behind me and I owe my success to them.
"The run support was so helpful. It gave me a sense of confidence and allowed me to have a lot more fun. I owe a lot to the other guys--they definitely pulled their weight today."
Junior Rob Catapano, a Knoxville native and a transfer from North Carolina, made his Volunteer debut, allowing just one hit and striking out two in 1.2 innings. Sophomores Dylan Hochevar and Matt Ramsey each tossed a perfect inning to close out the game.
After McCray opened the game with a quick, three-up, three-down inning on just 13 pitches in the top half of the first, Tennessee took advantage of three walks and an error to post three runs on just one hit and take a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the afternoon.
Polk wasted little time getting the ball rolling for the Vols, quickly stealing second and advancing to third on a wild pitch. After junior Khayyan Norfork walked, he trotted home for UT's first turn when Josh Liles bounced one back to the pitcher who threw it away trying to catch Polk sliding back into third. Freshman Cody Stubbs then brought Norfork home for an RBI on a groundout to second and Forsythe knocked in Liles on a double down the right-field line.
Although McCray allowed Xavier first baseman Bobby Freking to start off the second with Xavier's first hit of the afternoon on a line drive to center, he immediately sent Ryan Bellamy back to the bench after striking him out on a sharp-breaking curveball that dived away from the right-handed hitter. McCray then induced a groundball off the bat of Patrick Paligraf that the Tennessee infield swung around the horn for a double play, 5-4-3, to end the frame.
The Orange and White had a chance to put another tally on the board in the second after Polk legged out a double on a looper to left, but he was picked off at second by Xavier starter Jon Richard just two pitches later. McCray then sat the Musketeers down in order in the top of the third to bring the UT offense back up to the plate.
They rewarded him for the quick turnaround with two more runs in their half of the inning as Richard walked the first two batters before giving up a single to Liles and an RBI groundout to senior Matt Hamaker. The damage was kept to a minimum though when Forsythe was tagged out to end the inning just before touching the plate when he came racing home on a wild pitch.
Xavier threatened in the fourth, loading the bases on a bunt single, a walk and a hit batter, but McCray fought his way out of the jam by getting Paligraph to pop one up to Duffy at third on a hard inside fastball. After Tennessee went quietly in the bottom half of the stanza, the Musketeers finally got on the board when Phil Bauer led off the fifth with a home run over "The Porch" in left field. That would be the only run they would score the entire day, however, as McCray and the Volunteer bullpen held them to just one hit over the final 4.2 innings.
The Orange and White really put the game out of reach in the sixth frame, when they threw an eight-spot up on the scoreboard, capped off by Thurber's pinch-hit slam. Hamaker and Duffy opened the inning with back-to-back singles before advancing 90 feet to second and third on a balk by Richard. Osborne then reached first and Hamaker scored when two XU outfielders were unable to make a play on a shallow fly ball that fell for an error.
Polk then followed with a single to left off Musketeer reliever Seth Willoughby to load the bases and a wild pitch brought Duffy in to score. Willoughby then proceeded to walk Norfork on five pitches to load the bases once again, setting up a sacrifice fly by Liles to center. Struggling to find the plate, Willoughby walked his third batter, Stubbs, on five pitches as well, to fill the bases and force XU Head Coach Scott Googins to bring in Shane Liska from the bullpen.
The tactic did not help much, however, as he offered up four straight balls to Forsythe to plate Polk from third. Thurber then took the first pitch he saw from Liska and deposited it over the wall in right-center to increase the UT run total in the inning to eight, and increase its lead to 13-1.
The Vols' final four runs of the game all came in the eighth frame. They opened the inning by utilizing a leadoff walk, a single by Thurber and a double by sophomore Adam King in his first UT plate appearance to add another tally to the board. Duffy then laced a single to right to bring home two more Big Orange runners. A double by Osborne moved Duffy up to third and a sacrifice fly by Polk accounted for the final run of the day.
Tennessee will now hit the road for the first time in the 2010 campaign as it travels to face No. 10 Oregon State, Feb. 26-28, in Corvallis, Ore. The Beavers are currently in the middle of a four-game set against Hawaii in Honolulu and are 2-0 on the season after winning the first two games.
For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.