March 3, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Despite the first two home run game of Matt Hamaker's career and a furious two-out rally in the 10th inning, the University of Tennessee baseball team (4-3) dropped its initial midweek contest of the season, falling 8-7 to Eastern Kentucky (2-2) on a cold Wednesday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville.
"That's a tough one," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said "We didn't play a good game. That's the first time all year I haven't felt like we played well. We left 13 guys on and that will come back to get you in a one-run game. Every game counts and it's tough to win when you make three errors and leave 13 on.
"I thought we tried to come back late and showed some good things there, but you have to do that from the get-go. We just came out flat today. Our intensity wasn't where it needs to be. Offensively, we're just not clicking. I know we had some hits today but that's not enough. We need some guys, especially in the middle of the order, to start doing some things."
In just his second start of the year, Hamaker blasted home runs in the sixth and 10th innings, finishing the night 3-for-5 with three RBIs and a pair of runs scored. Junior Josh Liles and freshman Chris Fritts also added two hits each to the Volunteer offensive attack. The UT bullpen was outstanding yet again, as freshman Nick Blount and sophomores Will Locante and Matt Ramsey combined to throw six shutout innings before the Colonels got to Ramsey for a four-spot in the 10th.
Ryne Purcell picked up his first win of 2010 after allowing three runs on five hits in three innings, while Matt Harris earned the save by getting the final out of the game for Eastern Kentucky. Ramsey suffered the loss for the Big Orange, giving up a two-out grand slam in the 10th. The 5-10 right-hander tied his career high with three innings of work, striking out three and walking one. Senior Steve Crnkovich started the game for UT, allowing four runs on five hits in three innings.
After a two-run bomb by Hamaker in the sixth inning tied the score at 4-4, neither team was able to scratch across a run over the next three frames to send the game to extra innings for the first time this season for both teams.
The Colonels quickly grabbed the momentum in the top of the 10th, putting their first two runners on with a double down the third-base line and a single on a high chopper to third. A fly ball to center then moved them up 90 feet before a walk loaded the bases with just one out. Despite the odds being stacked against him, it looked as if Ramsey might get out of the inning unscathed as he was able to freeze Richie Allen with a 92-mph fastball down the middle for his third strikeout of the night. Ramsey then moved the count to 1-2 in his favor to the next batter, Michael Garcia. Just three pitches later, however, Garcia turned on an inside fastball and snuck it just over the left-field wall for a grand slam.
The Vols refused to back down though and mounted a furious rally in their half of the inning to cut the deficit to a single run. After sophomore Charley Thurber struck out swinging to start the stanza, Hamaker followed with a solo shot to almost the same spot in left that his first home run left the park. It looked like that would be all Tennessee would be able to get as Fritts flew out to left to put two outs on the scoreboard.
Back-to-back singles from junior Khayyan Norfork and Liles, however, kept the UT hopes alive. Osborne then made it three base knocks in a row as he brought Norfork in from third with an RBI single to center. Junior P.J. Polk then walked to load the bases and put an end to Purcell's night. With Harris on the mound, the Big Orange continued to inch closer, moving to within one at 8-7 following a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk to junior Blake Forsythe. That would be where both the rally and the game would end, however, as Harris was able to get Duffy to ground out to second for the third and final out.
Eastern Kentucky was the first team to crack the scoreboard on Wednesday, scoring a pair of runs in the top of the second. With two outs and the bases loaded after a couple of singles and a walk, Richie Rodriguez was able to bring home two runners when he lined one to center that bounced off the glove of a diving Liles for a double. Crnkovich kept the damage at a minimum though, as he got the next batter to fly out to Thurber in right for the final out.
Tennessee got one of the runs back in the bottom half of the stanza, following EKU's example and doing so with two outs. Thurber got the rally started by drawing a four-pitch walk and Hamaker followed with a single to left. Fritts then plated UT's first run of the contest with an RBI single to right-center that brought Thurber home from second.
The Colonels added another pair of runs in the third, getting the first tally when Jayson Langfels drove an 0-2 pitch over the wall in right-center for his third home run of the year. Crnkovich then hit and walked the next two batters to put runners on first and second with no outs. Although he was able to get Joey Stevens to fly out to right for the first out, the runner was able to tag up and move from second to third on the play. Allen then lifted the very next pitch deep enough into center to allow him to advance the final 90 feet to home on a sacrifice fly. Forsythe kept the UT deficit from increasing any further by throwing out his first of four potential base-stealers on the night when Dustin Dunlop tried to steal second.
A leadoff double by Liles in the bottom of the third went to waste, as EKU starter Greg Terry was able to sandwich a pop out, a strikeout and a ground out around a walk to junior Cody Hawn and a double steal. That would be his last inning of work though, as Colonel Head Coach Jason Stein called upon Macon Smith to go the next three frames. UT's Thurber did not greet him kindly, taking the fourth pitch he saw from Smith and parking it deep over "The Porch" in left for a solo home run that put the score at 4-2.
While the Vols' bullpen was tossing zeroes up on the board over the next six innings, the Orange and White offense was able to tie the game up with a pair of runs in the sixth. After a groundout to start the frame, Duffy got the ball rolling for the Big Orange with a single to the gap in right-center. Following a flyout that put two out on the board, Hamaker crushed a 2-2 fastball to left for his first home run of the season and second of his UT career. The two-run blast also knotted the score up at 4-all, where it would remain until Garcia's grand slam in the 10th.
Tennessee will remain at home for the next four games, as Binghamton and Kennesaw State will make the trip to Rocky Top for a weekend tournament. The Vols will open with a 5 p.m. contest against Binghamton on Fri., March 3.
For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.