March 17, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - In its final tune-up before beginning the Southeastern Conference portion of its schedule, the University of Tennessee baseball team (10-7) scored early and often en route to a 13-2 triumph over Morehead State on St. Patrick's Day at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The Volunteers scored 10 runs in the first two innings to put it out of reach in a hurry. The UT pitching staff did the rest, as six pitchers combined to allow just three hits and two runs all night.
"We played a pretty good game tonight," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "We pitched outstanding. All of our guys pitched really well. It was good to see Zach Osborne continue to swing a hot bat too. You can see that some of our other guys are definitely starting to swing the bat better. Even when you're making outs, you can get closer and you can see that some of the guys are doing that. That doesn't always show up in the box score."
Junior Rob Catapano got the start and earned his first win as a member of the Tennessee roster. The Knoxville native held the Eagles to just one run on two hits while striking out a pair of batters and walking one in three innings of work.
After Catapano had reached his predetermined pitch count, the Big Orange received six stellar innings from its bullpen, highlighted by two shutout frames by freshman Alan Walden. The Chattanooga product did not give up a hit and struck out a career-high three. Freshmen Nick Blount and Drew Steckenrider then followed with consecutive scoreless innings, before sophomore Will Locante put a third straight zero up on the board. Fellow classmate Matt Ramsey finished off the game by striking out the side around a solo home run in the ninth.
At the plate, sophomore Zach Osborne picked up right where he left off this weekend, going 3-for-4 with three runs score and four RBIs, all on a first-inning grand slam. The four-bagger in the opening frame was his third in a string of four at-bats dating back to UT's win over Marshall on Sunday when he hit two out of the park.
Junior P.J. Polk and freshman Chris Fritts also had solid days offensively, adding two hits to the Big Orange effort. Polk knocked in a pair of runs and scored a run, while Fritts crossed the plate twice, as did senior Matt Hamaker and junior Matt Duffy. Both Hamaker and sophomore Charley Thurber were responsible for two RBIs each in the contest as well.
Sporting green jerseys and hats on St. Patrick's Day for the second consecutive season, Tennessee immediately went to work, scoring seven times in the first and three more in the second. After Catapano sat Morehead State down in order in the top of the first, the Vols used walks to three of their first four batters and an error by the Eagle third baseman to push across the first run of the day. MSU starting pitcher Tyler Hieneman then hit Duffy in the shoulder with a 1-2 pitch to bring junior Cody Hawn in from third to make it 2-0 in favor of UT.
The score would not remain there for long, however, as Osborne ripped a grand slam over "The Porch" in left just three pitches later to put the Vols up by six. The round-tripper was his team-leading fourth of the season and third in just two games. Tennessee was not done yet though, getting singles from Fritts, Polk and Thurber to add one more tally for good measure before the inning finally came to a close after 12 Vol batters had stepped to the plate.
Morehead State threatened to move back within striking distance in the top of the second, loading the bases with nobody out, but Catapano was able to buckle down and get out of the frame with limited damage. The Eagles were only able to scratch across a single run, as they grounded into a run-scoring double play before a fly out ended the inning just two batters later.
The Big Orange continued to apply the pressure in the bottom of the second, scoring three more times on three hits. After a strikeout to open the inning, Hamaker took the first pitch he saw and parked it over the wall in left-center for his third home run of the season. A walk to Duffy and a single to right by Osborne put two runners on for Fritts, who was able to move them both into scoring position with a ground out to third. Thurber then followed by lacing one to center for a two-out, two-RBI single.
Neither team was able to get much going over the next three frames until UT put a three-spot up on the board in the sixth. Despite two quick outs on a pair of ground-outs, sandwiched around a walk to pinch-hitter Cody Stubbs, the Vols were able to keep the inning going with Osborne getting hit by a pitch and Fritts reaching on an infield single. With the bases loaded, Morehead State called Michael Fahs out of the bullpen to try to get the third out. It looked like he had done just that, as Thurber swung and missed at strike three. The ball, however, bounced past the catcher to the backstop, allowing Thurber to reach first and Stubbs to score. Polk then ripped a line drive to the corner in left for a double that brought home two more runs.
With a 12-run lead, the Tennessee bullpen simply put things on cruise control, retiring 17 straight hitters between the fourth and ninth innings. The Eagles finally snapped that streak with a solo home run by Andrew Deeds with two outs in the final frame, but Ramsey put an end to the game just two batters later when he struck out Eric Bainer looking on a 3-2 count to give the Vols the victory.
UT will return to the diamond this weekend when it opens SEC play on the road at South Carolina. The three-game set with the Gamecocks will kick off at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 19, at Carolina Stadium in Columbia, S.C. A 4 p.m. contest will follow the next day with the series finale set for 1 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.