April 1, 2012
Zach Osborne delivered a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the sixth inning to lift the Vols to a 5-3 win and the series sweep over Alabama.
The series sweep is just Tennessee's second over Alabama, in a rivalry that dates back to 1897. The Vols also swept the Tide in 1994.
With his save in the series finale, junior Nick Blount recorded his fifth save of the week and second of the day.
With a three-run fifth inning by Alabama, Nick Williams' scoreless streak as a starting pitcher ended at 13.2 innings, spanning the first three starts of his career.
A total of 6,413 fans passed through the turnstiles at Lindsey Nelson Stadium this weekend, marking UT's highest attendance total for a series this season.
"That was pretty special," UT head coach Dave Serrano said. "I am very proud of our guys. It wasn't an easy week by any stretch of the imagination, but we came out 5-0. More importantly, we were 3-0 in the SEC this weekend. We get above .500 and we are 5-4 (in the SEC) which puts us in the hunt, but we have a long way to go. We are nine games into a 30-game schedule, but I am proud of how we have continued to overcome adversity and weather and find a way to get it done."
With wins in all five of its games this week, Tennessee is now 18-10 on the season and 5-4 in SEC play. Alabama falls to 9-19 overall and 1-8 in league action.
"We haven't had many easy games," Serrano said. "I made this comment after we beat MVSU on Wednesday. It would be easy for us to come out to a team that may not be as good as us and win 12-0, but you don't get anything out of that. Every game we have played this week has been a dogfight. When you start to get through those dogfights, you find a way to come out on top and win. I think because nothing has come easy for this team, this team is starting to gain some mental toughness to find ways to get through the tough times of a baseball game."
The sweep is just UT's second ever against Alabama in a rivalry that dates back to 1897 and is the first home sweep for the Vols since it took three from LSU in 2008. The Big Orange has now won five straight games over the Crimson Tide, the longest winning such streak in school history.
With the score deadlocked at 3-3 and a steady rain falling in the bottom of the sixth, Tennessee got a leadoff single by Davis Morgan. Pinch runner Nick Powell then swiped second, his first career stolen base, before a one-out walk and a hit batter loaded the bags for Osborne who ripped an 0-2 pitch over the shortstop to bring in the winning runs.
"I was looking fastball early and once I had two strikes I was just trying to put a good swing on it and make some contact," Osborne said. "As a hitter it is always tough on a 0-2 pitch. You know the pitcher is way ahead. They can throw you a curve ball at any time. It's always tough with two strikes, but you have to go out and perform."
Alabama greeted Blount with a leadoff base-hit in the seventh but a fly out to the warning track in right and a 6-3 double play finished off the UT sweep.
The save was Blount's second of the day as he finished off the first game as well. He also saved each of Tennessee's five wins on the week to up his season total to six. He has rocketed up the UT career chart and now ranks in a tie for eighth all-time with seven. He is tied with former Vols Joey Andrew (2002-05) and Danny Wiltz (2006-09) as well as current teammate Nick Williams who actually started the contest.
Carter Watson tossed 2.1 scoreless innings of relief to pick up the win, his second of the series and third of the week. Jon Keller suffered the loss for Alabama after allowing all five UT runs on five hits in 5.1 innings.
Osborne was 2-for-3 at the plate in the game, putting his average for the weekend series at .667 (6-for-9). His two RBIs brought his season total to double-digits at 10. Zach Luther also had a pair of hits and scored two runs for the Vols, while Drew Steckenrider launched his team-leading fourth home run of the season.
After falling behind early in each of the first two games of the series, Tennessee jumped out to a quick lead in the finale, as Steckenrider followed a single by Zach Luther with an opposite-field blast off of the scoreboard in right-center that put the Vols ahead 2-0 in the first inning.
The Big Orange tacked on another run in the third. Once again, Luther reached base on a single to right to start things off before swiping second and moving to third on a wild pitch. With the Alabama infield drawn in on the grass, Morgan smoked one on the ground to short. The shortstop made a diving play but had no chance to get Luther at the plate as UT jumped ahead 3-0.
Alabama wasn't going to go down without a fight though, taking advantage of a number of close calls to plate three runs in the top of the fourth and tie the game at 3-3. Jerad Reaves got the scoring started with a leadoff home run to left that snapped Williams' scoreless streak as a starting pitcher at 13.2 innings, spanning three starts.
Following a pair of flyouts, sandwiched around a one-out single, a walk in a 10-pitch at-bat to Ben Miller put runners on first and second with two outs for the Tide. Williams worked the count to 2-2 against the next batter, James Tullidge, before missing on two extremely close pitches to load the bases with another walk.
The walk prompted a slow walk to the mound by Serrano where he had a long chat with Williams. Upon entering the conversation, home plate umpire Todd Henderson ejected Serrano for the first time as the Tennessee skipper.
On the first pitch after the ejection, Hunter Gregory laced a single to center, bringing in two runs to tie the game at 3-3. After Williams hit the next batter, the Vols called on Watson who got a fly out on his first pitch to get UT out of the inning.
Watson then posted zeroes in the fifth and sixth innings to set up the heroics by Osborne and Blount.
Tennessee will close out its 10-game homestand on Wednesday when it hosts Memphis at 7 p.m. That contest will be televised on FOX Sports South.