March 9, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - The University of Tennessee baseball team (6-6) was unable to hold on to a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, as Western Kentucky (9-3) rallied for a pair of runs to the tie the contest before scoring another in the 10th to earn a 5-4 victory Tuesday afternoon at Nick Denes Field in Bowling Green, Ky.
The Volunteers scored their four runs on seven hits, all of which came with two outs. Senior Matt Hamaker led the attack with a pair of hits in five at-bats, while juniors Cody Hawn and Khayyan Norfork each recorded an RBI in the contest and P.J. Polk scored two runs and walked twice.
Sophomore southpaw Adam Adkins suffered his first loss of the season after walking the only batter he faced in the 10th inning. Lost in the defeat were strong efforts from senior Aaron Tullo, sophomore Josh Allman and redshirt-freshman Hunter Daniel. In his first start of the season, Tullo logged 3.2 innings, allowing just one run on one hit while striking out five and walking three. Allman and Daniel, meanwhile, combined to post 2.1 innings of hitless, shutout relief in the middle innings for UT.
The Big Orange got the scoring started with a run in the top of the third. Junior P.J. Polk was issued a free pass by WKU starter Taylor Haydel to open the frame. With the count at 2-2 to the next hitter, Norfork, Polk was running on the pitch, which kept UT out of the double play as Norfork grounded out to third. Polk was then given another free base as a balk was called on Haydel and Hawn brought him home with a sacrifice fly to center.
Western Kentucky got the score back an inning later, using a lead-off single, two walks and a wild pitch to put its first run on the scoreboard, but Tennessee regained the advantage in the top of the fifth. A leadoff walk to junior Matt Duffy got the ball rolling for UT and sophomore Zach Osborne laid down a perfectly-executed sac bunt to move him up to second with one out. Polk followed with a sharp groundball right at the shortstop, but Logan Robbins was unable to come up with it as it rolled into left, allowing Duffy to race home for the score. That would be all the Vols could manage though, as a 5-4-3 double play brought the frame to a close.
Once again, however, the UT lead would not last long as the Hilltoppers responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the fifth. Although junior D.J. Leffler was able to record a pair of quick outs on consecutive groundouts to Osborne at short, a seeing-eye single up the middle by Kes Carter gave WKU a two-out baserunner. He would come in to score just five pitches later when Matt Rice looped one down the right-field line for an RBI double. Allman was able to limit the amount of damage though, as he came on to get pinch-hitter Ryan Huck swinging for the third out.
The back-and-forth battle continued in the next half-inning, with Tennessee tallying an unearned run to go back on top 3-2. Hawn tried to catch the WKU defense off-guard to start the frame, laying down a surprise bunt, but Garrie Krueger was able to jump off the mound, field the ball cleanly and make an accurate throw to first for the first out. Freshman Cody Stubbs then struck out swinging to put UT in a quick two-out hole, but junior Josh Liles was undeterred and smacked a single to left to get the Big Orange offense going. After he advanced to second on a balk, Hamaker hit a high chopper to short that he was able to beat out for a single. WKU first baseman Jake Wells then mishandled the throw and Liles came racing home from third to score.
The Orange and White played a little small-ball with two outs in the top of the seventh to extend its lead to a pair of runs at 4-2. After a couple of quick outs once again, Polk was hit by a 2-2 pitch from Aaron Mayfield to give UT a two-out baserunner. He was then off-and-running on the very next pitch, swiping his sixth bag of the season. Polk then moved up to third on a wild pitch and Norfork was able to knock him in with an RBI single the opposite way to right.
After a scoreless stanza for both teams in the eighth, the Hilltoppers were able to thwart a Tennessee rally in the top of the ninth. After back-to-back walks were issued to Osborne and Polk to start the frame, Norfork moved them both up 90 feet with a sac bunt. With first base open, Western Kentucky decided to intentionally walk Hawn to load the bases and set up the force play. The next batter, Stubbs, was able to lift an 0-2 pitch to center, but it wasn't quite deep enough to bring the runner in from third and WKU got out of the jam moments later when Liles flew out to center as well.
Unfortunately for fans of the Orange and White, that would be the last inning that UT would hold the lead as Western Kentucky rallied for two in the bottom of the ninth and another in the 10th to win the game. With freshman Nick Blount on the mound after throwing a scoreless eighth due to injuries to sophomores Matt Ramsey and Will Locante, Wells gave the Hilltoppers a leadoff runner for the third straight inning when he was hit by an 0-2 pitch. It looked like the hit-batter would be a minor concern, as Blount proceeded to induce a pair of pop-outs, but two-out bunt single by Matt Payton kept the inning alive for WKU.
The Big Orange was unable to get anything going in its half of the 10th as 6-5 right-hander Rye Davis come on to strike out Hamaker and Thurber on 92- and 96-mph fastballs, respectively. Duffy then grounded out to second to bring the Hilltoppers back to the plate. They would take full advantage of the opportunity, as a lead-off walk from Adkins and three consecutive singles off junior Spencer Clifft gave them the victory.
The Vols will not have much time to dwell on this loss as they will be back in action again Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT against Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro, Tenn. For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.