March 20, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
COLUMBIA, S.C. - For the second straight day, the University of Tennessee baseball team (10-9, 0-2) battled back from an early deficit only to see South Carolina (15-4, 2-0) answer right back to claim victory, as the Volunteers fell 10-7 to the Gamecocks in front of 7,813 Saturday afternoon at Carolina Stadium in Columbia, S.C.
"I'm proud of the way our team battled back, and it was disappointing to give up those runs in the seventh, especially with two outs, but we were using mostly freshmen pitchers there at the end and they just pitched like freshmen today," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "Obviously, we missed Steven Gruver tonight, but we did some good things.
"We out-hit them and kept battling back, but we just walked too many people and pitched behind in the count too much today. We do take some positives away from this game in that we were able to claw our way back from five down and string some big hits together to tie it up. The key is that we didn't give up and kept fighting the entire game."
After the first four innings, UT found itself down by five and without a run on the scoreboard. It did not panic, however, scratching across single runs in the fifth and sixth frames before posting a three-spot in the seventh to tie it all up at 5-5.
The score would not remain deadlocked for long though, as the Gamecocks responded with four runs of their own in the bottom of the seventh and another in the eighth to go back up 10-5. A towering two-run home run by junior Cody Hawn in the ninth brought the Big Orange back within three, but that would be as close as they would get.
Hawn finished the day with two hits in five at-bats and three RBIs, while sophomore Zach Osborne continued his torrid offensive pace with a 3-for-4 effort, scoring a pair of runs and knocking in another. During his current four-game hitting streak, Osborne is hitting .563 (9-for-17) with three home runs, seven runs scored and 10 RBIs.
Senior Matt Hamaker and junior Khayyan Norfork also added two hits each to the Tennessee attack, as the Vols actually out-hit USC, 11 to eight in the game. Only one of those hits, the Hawn longball, was for extra-bases, however, while half of South Carolina's hits were for multiple bases.
Much like they did on Friday night, the Gamecocks jumped out to an early lead with a run in the opening frame. UT starter Aaron Tullo had trouble finding the plate early one, walking the first batter and hitting the second. Although he got Jackie Bradley, Jr., to fly out to right for the first out, he then walked Kyle Enders on five pitches to load the bases. That would also mark the end of his night, as Raleigh decided to bring senior Steve Crnkovich in from the bullpen.
The 6-4 right-hander didn't have much more luck to begin with, as he walked the first batter he faced to plate the first run of the game. He settled down quickly though and induced an inning-ending 6-3 double play off the bat of Christian Walker to keep the damage at a minimum.
After a scoreless second, the Gamecocks took advantage of a walk and a hit batter to score two more on a one-out double by Jeffery Jones. Although Crnkovich was able to get Walker to ground out once again for the second out, Jones moved up to third on the play before coming home one pitch later on a single by Adam Matthews to left.
USC struck again in the fourth, putting another tally on the scoreboard on a solo home run by Whit Merrifield. The Vols were not going to go down without a fight, however, and started to string together a few hits scratch across a couple of runs of their own over the next two frames.
In the fifth, the Big Orange staged a two-out rally, kicked off by a single by Norfork down the line in right. South Carolina starter Sam Dyson then plunked junior P.J. Polk square in the back. With two runners on, Osborne looped a single to left that brought Norfork the final 180 feet around the diamond for UT's first run.
Tennessee got right back at it in the sixth, with Hamaker starting off the stanza with a leadoff single to the hole at short. Although he would be cut down at second on a fielder's choice, Thurber took his spot at first. A groundout by freshman Cody Stubbs put the second out on the board, but it also allowed Thurber to move in to scoring position. Junior Matt Duffy then knocked him in with a single on a sharp liner to center.
The Vols' biggest inning of the game came in the seventh, as they put up a three-spot to finish off the comeback and tie the contest at 5-5. With USC making the decision to go its bullpen before the inning, UT came out of the gates swinging and Norfork gave the Big Orange a leadoff runner for the second consecutive frame with a single to right. A Polk groundout and another Osborne single then put runners on the corners for Hawn.
After falling behind in the count, 0-2, Hawn simply put the bat on the ball and was able to loop a single to left just over the glove of the USC third baseman to allow Norfork to cross the plate. Hamaker made it three straight singles for the Orange and White, knocking in Osborne with a hard groundball through the left side. An error on the play put Hawn on third and Hamaker on second. With two runners in scoring position and the Vols down just one, Thurber got his second RBI of the weekend with a groundout to the second baseman.
South Carolina was undeterred by the completed comeback, however, and immediately answered with four runs in the bottom of the frame, all of which came with two outs. The first two came on an RBI triple to the right-field corner by Walker after Enders walked and Jones was hit in the shoulder by a 1-0 fastball.
Following back-to-back walks by UT freshmen Drew Steckenrider and Nick Blount, the Gamecocks scored twice more on a single through the right side by Scott Wingo. After Tennessee went quietly in the top of the eighth, USC added its final run of the day on a home run by Jones on a first-pitch fastball from freshman Alan Walden.
Trailing by five heading into the top of the ninth, Tennessee was able to score a pair on a towering, one-out two-run blast by Hawn following Osborne's third single of the game. That would be all it could muster though, as Parker Bang's picked up his first win of the season after getting Hamaker to pop out to second and striking out Thurber.
The Vols will wrap up their three-game set with the Gamecocks at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Carolina Stadium. For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.