March 20, 2010By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee baseball team is off to its best start since the 2003 campaign after putting behind a rough start and two rain delays to rally for a 9-4 victory to complete the series sweep over Canisius on Sunday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
"We dug ourselves a hole early on," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "It was kind of déjà vu of last Sunday but we were able to cut it off a little bit. I have to give credit to Carter Watson. It was a tough situation to put a freshman in. He made a senseless error on a bunt, but other than that I was pretty pleased with what he did. All of the pitchers that followed did a good job. Other than the first inning, we had a tremendous weekend. We had at least four double plays and stole a lot of bases today. To me, that was the difference in the game."
The Volunteers are now 5-1 on the season, marking their best start since opening with an 8-0 record in 2003, while Canisius dropped to 3-4 with the loss. The home sweep is UT's first since at Lindsey Nelson since taking all three games from LSU in 2008.
UT put its aggressive baserunning philosophy on full display Sunday, swiping nine bases in 10 attempts, led by three each from senior Matt Duffy and freshman Andrew Toles. The nine stolen bases marked the most for the Orange and White in a single game since it last stole nine against Morehead State on Feb. 8, 2003.
Duffy also went 3-for-3 with a walk, three RBIs and two runs scored at the plate and made a number of terrific plays defensively at third base to round out a solid all-around afternoon. Toles added two hits, a walk and a run as well, while senior Khayyan Norfork, who stole two bases of his own, had a single in the fourth to ensure that he has now hit safely in all six games this season.
Despite entering the game under less than ideal circumstances, freshman Carter Watson earned his first career victory after twirling 4.2 strong innings of relief. He allowed just one unearned run on two hits and four walks. Sophomore Zack Godley would later come on to close out the game, holding the Griffins to just one hit over the final 1.2 innings for his first save in a UT uniform. Tennessee now has four saves on the season from four different pitchers. That matches the team's save total for the entire 2010 season.
The Big Orange also put on a clinic defensively, turning four inning-ending double plays. That is the most in a single game since it turned four against USC Upstate on March 25, 2008. Through the first six games of the season, the Vols have only had three errors, just one of which has come from a position player.
"Honestly, in six games we've made three errors, two by pitchers," Raleigh said. "The one yesterday was a freak play with Khayyan on a line-drive double-play. Our double plays were the difference today. Not only that, but Duffy made a couple plays today that were unbelievable."
Following a delay of 35 minutes prior to the first pitch due to scattered showers in the area, UT starting pitcher Jerod Peper got off to a rough start, hitting the first batter and walking the second before play was halted due to more rain.
Play resumed one hour, 14 minutes later with Watson on the mound for the Vols. The rookie from Murfreesboro, Tenn., would make a throwing error that would bring a run in, but settled down after that, getting three consecutive groundouts. Canisius made the most of the outs, however, scoring two more runs to take a 3-0 lead after the first frame.
"(Jerod) struggled a little bit but I also think the rain hit him," Raleigh said. "We had two great performances (the last two days) so we had a lot of pitching left. I didn't know we were going to pitch like that the previous two days so I didn't feel any stretch in our bullpen. (Jerod) is going to be fine. It was only two hitters but it was an hour-and-something delay, so I didn't want to bring him back out there."
After a scoreless second, the Vols struck big in the third, scoring three runs to take a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the game. With one out on the board, Duffy reached base on a hit by pitch. He immediately stole second and then swiped third without a throw when the fourth ball to Ramsey found the dirt. He would come home to score just seconds later when Horne lifted a sacrifice fly to left field. The big blow came on the very next pitch, however, when junior Charley Thurber blasted a two-run home run over the wall in right. It came on a free swing, as the Canisius pitcher had been called for a balk on the play.
While those five runs would prove to be enough in the long run, the Vols tacked on another run in the fourth when Duffy singled home Norfork. Canisius scored again in the top of the sixth, but Ramsey gunned down a runner trying to steal second to thwart any attempt at a comeback.
The Big Orange got the run back in the bottom of the stanza anyway when a sac fly from senior Josh Liles brought Toles home just one pitch after he had stolen third.
UT's final two runs came in the eighth inning, during which it stole three more bases. With one out, Toles singled to left and advanced to second on an error when the ball scooted by the left fielder. After a walk to Norfork, the speedy duo recorded the team's second successful double steal of the day. Although Toles would be thrown out at a very close play at the plate, the Vols still had runners on the corners. That quickly turned into two runners in scoring position thanks to yet another stolen base, this one by Liles, before Duffy brought both runners home with a bloop single to right.
The Volunteers will return to the diamond next Friday against Bradley at 5 p.m. at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. UT will then host Indiana at 4 p.m. on Saturday and Morehead State at 4 p.m. on Sunday.