March 7, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - For the first 8 2/3 innings on Sunday, Kennesaw State kept Tennessee off the scoreboard. That wasn't long enough, however, as the Volunteers scored a pair of two-out runs in the bottom of the ninth and another in the 11th on a walk-off single by junior Blake Forsythe to finish off the weekend with a 3-2 win over the Owls at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville.
"We were fortunate to get the win today," UT Head coach Todd Raleigh said. "It shouldn't have to be that close all the time, but we just had too many double plays and left too many runners on. The thing is that we are getting chances with our key people at the plate, but we just aren't producing for some reason right now.
"Fortunately, our starting pitching has been outstanding, and today was no different. It's just been off the charts. Those were probably four of the best starts since I've been here. Catapano was unbelievable today and for Ramsey to come in with nobody out and the bases loaded and not give up a run was just ridiculous. On top of all that, Steve Crnkovich comes in and does a tremendous job."
The story of the weekend was starting pitching for UT as Bryan Morgado, Steven Gruver, Stephen McCray and Rob Catapano combined to post a 1.00 ERA, allowing just three earned runs on 13 hits in 27.0 innings. They also struck out 22 batters, walked only three and held opposing hitters to a .137 batting average with just three extra-base hits.
Catapano lived up to his end of the bargain on Sunday, tossing five shutout innings, giving up just a single hit and striking out three. The Knoxville native pounded the zone his entire time on the mound, throwing 43 strikes in 62 pitches in his first start at UT and the eighth of his collegiate career.
Senior Steve Crnkovich ended up with the win, his first of the year, after allowing just one run on five hits in four innings of relief. The 6-4 right-hander struck out four and walked one.
Despite the stellar pitching, the UT offense struggled to get going Sunday after scoring 19 runs against Binghamton Saturday night. The Big Orange actually found itself down to its last strike against the Owls, before scratching across a pair of runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the contest up at 2-2.
Crnkovich continued to throw zeroes up on the scoreboard for Tennessee and the Vols finally struck for another score in the bottom of the 11th to claim the victory. Junior Khayyan Norfork started the final frame with a single through the left-side of the infield and moved up to second when freshman Drew Steckenrider was hit by a pitch while trying to lay down a bunt. Forsythe then smoked a 1-2 pitch into left field to bring Norfork home from second and end the game.
The Orange and White would not have been in position to win the game without some ninth-inning heroics, however. The stanza started off inauspiciously for UT as junior Josh Liles grounded out to second for the first out. Senior Matt Hamaker and junior P.J. Polk followed with a walk and a single, respectively, to put runners on first and second for sophomore Charley Thurber. The Owls came within inches of the win when Thurber grounded one right at second baseman Sean McClurken, but he bobbled the ball for just a split second and Thurber dove in to first base head-first to just beat out the throw from the shortstop as he relayed the ball on a double-play attempt.
With junior Cody Hawn stepping up to the plate, Norfork came in to pinch run for Thurber. Hawn proceeded to lace the second pitch he saw to center for a single, bringing Hamaker in for Tennessee's first run of the day. It was almost their last, however, as Forsythe worked his at-bat into a full count. A 3-2 curveball missed just high though, loading the bases for freshman Cody Stubbs. After a pair of balls, KSU pitcher J.B. Johnson plunked Stubbs in his right knee to bring in the tying run from third in the form of Norfork. That would be all UT could manage, however, as Owl first baseman Ross Tendler made a nice play on a foul ball by freshman Chris Fritts, reaching over the railing in front of the photo well by the home dugout to snag the pop-up.
The Vols were fortunate that their deficit was just two runs heading into the ninth as Kennesaw State nearly added a few more after loading the bases with nobody out in the seventh. Raleigh called upon closer Matt Ramsey to get the Big Orange out of the jam and he was able to do just that. After fellow sophomore Will Locante walked a batter and gave up back-to-back bunt singles to start the frame, Ramsey came on and got the first out by blowing a 94-mph fastball right down the middle on an 0-2 count for a called third strike to Trey Malone. The next hitter lined one right back up the middle, but it hit Ramsey in the arm and he was able to pick it up and just get the runner at home on the force play. On the very next pitch, Clint Rocques had an almost identical liner back to the mound, but Ramsey was able to catch this one for the third out.
The Owls' first run of the afternoon came in the sixth inning when junior Spencer Clifft came on in relief of Catapano. After a leadoff triple by McClurken, Clifft recorded a big out by getting Rocques to strike out swinging on a 3-2 fastball. Raleigh then called upon Locante for the next two outs, which he got, but not before a sacrifice fly by Josh Whitaker brought McClurken in for the initial score of the contest. The only other KSU tally occurred in the eighth as a hit batter, sac bunt and double off of Crnkovich put the Owls up 2-0.
Despite not scoring until the ninth inning, that's not to say the Vols didn't have their chances as they had leadoff runners on board in six of the first eight innings. They also had runners in scoring position with less than two outs in the first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh frames.
The win improved UT's record to 6-5 on the season, while Kennesaw State falls to 4-8.
Tennessee will look to carry the momentum from Sunday's win over into a pair of midweek contests, as it will hit the road for a 4 p.m. showdown against No. 23 Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, Ky., on Tuesday, March 9. The Big Orange will then make the trek down to Murfreesboro for another 4 p.m. game the following day, this time against Middle Tennessee State.
For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.