April 3, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
OXFORD, Miss. - Led by a four-hit, two home run performance by P.J. Polk and seven gutsy innings from Stephen McCray, the University of Tennessee baseball team finally broke through in Southeastern Conference play, taking out No. 11 Ole Miss, 5-2, to even its series with the Rebels Saturday afternoon in front of 7,429 raucous fans at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field in Oxford, Miss.
"It's good to get this win under our belt," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "To be honest with you, every SEC game we have played has been a lot like this one. The difference today was that our bullpen put up zeroes and we were able to tack on one in the eighth and one in the ninth.
"Obviously, P.J. (Polk) had a terrific game and Stephen (McCray) came through big after struggling early. It looked like he might not get out of the third and somehow he was able to find his rhythm and take us through the seventh. (Will) Locante was unbelievable today and (Matt) Ramsey made it interesting there at the end but he got the job done."
Polk completed the game with four hits in five at-bats, including a pair of home runs to push his season total to a team-high six. He bookended the contest with longballs, hitting one on the second pitch of the game and another on the first pitch of the ninth inning. The Murfreesboro, Tenn., native also added a run-scoring single in the third to give him three RBIs on the day, crossed the plate twice and finished with 10 total bases to break his previous career best by four.
A 5-9 junior, Polk now has five home runs in the past five games and is in the midst of a season-long nine game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .390 with 16 hits, 15 RBIs and four stolen bases in four attempts.
"This is a big win," Polk said. "We knew we could do it, but we just had to go out and execute. Now we just need to keep it rolling."
McCray, meanwhile, battled through the first few frames before settling in a groove and finishing with seven strong innings to improve to 3-3 on the year. He allowed just two runs on four hits and five walks and struck out five on a season-high 112 pitches to out-duel SEC wins leader Aaron Barrett, whom the Vols handed his first loss of the 2010 campaign. Barrett lasted 6.2 innings, giving up three runs, two earned on a season-high eight hits. He did not walk a batter and struck out seven as he fell to 6-1.
"I didn't have it right out of the gate and I knew it," McCray said. "I just had to battle and dig deep to find something to get through the inning. I just had to go back to the basics, relax, keep my tempo and focus. Hopefully this win will keep everyone in a positive mindset and we can come back out here tomorrow and get another one."
Tennessee also got good work out of its bullpen as sophomores Will Locante and Matt Ramsey closed out the victory with a pair of scoreless innings. Locante sat down all three batters that he faced, striking out two, while Ramsey had to fight through a pair of walks to earn his first save of the season. In all, the Big Orange held Ole Miss to two runs on just four hits on the day.
As noted earlier, Polk set the tone for the game almost immediately, launching the second pitch of the day into the Rebel bullpen to put UT up 1-0. Fellow classmate Khayyan Norfork followed suit just two pitches later, lacing a double down the left-field line. That's as far as he would go though as Barrett settled down to sit down the next three batters.
The Rebels tried to answer in the bottom of the frame, putting their first two batters on base with a leadoff single and a hit batter. They then attempted a double steal, but junior Blake Forsythe came up big for the Vols, gunning down Tim Ferguson at third for his first caught stealing of the season. He had been perfect in his first 14 attempts of the year.
With a runner on second and one out, McCray induced a groundball to sophomore Zach Osborne at short who threw to Duffy at third to put Alex Yarbrough in a rundown which eventually ended with Khayyan Norfork tagging him out. After hitting another batter, McCray closed out the frame by striking out Zach Miller.
Following a scoreless top half of the second inning, Ole Miss attempted to mount a two-out rally in the bottom portion of the stanza. McCray wasted little time getting the first two batters to ground out to Norfork at second, but then lost his feel for the strike zone and walked three consecutive batters to load the bases. He settled down just in time though, getting Alex Yarbrough to fly out to Polk in left for the final out.
Tennessee needed just five pitches to add another run on to its lead in the third. Freshman Chris Fritts got things started by chopping one over the third baseman's head into left field. He then moved up to second on a wild pitch before Polk singled him home with a base-knock up the middle.
Once again, the Rebels came fighting back but, this time they were actually able to do some damage. Following a leadoff single by Matt Smith, Matt Snyder tied the game with one swing of the bat, parking a 1-1 pitch from McCray in the seats in center for a two-run home run.
The Big Orange response was immediate, however, as Duffy led off the top of the fourth with a longball of his own, his second during SEC play, to give UT a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the game.
McCray and Barrett posted matching scoreless frames over the next three innings before the Vols got to the Ole Miss bullpen for a run in both the eighth and ninth.
With Eric Callender on the mound for the Rebels in the top of the eighth, freshman Cody Stubbs drew a one-out walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Cody Grisham. Although Callender got Duffy swinging on a 1-2 curveball, Osborne came through with a clutch, two-out single for the Big Orange to put runners on first and second. Liles then proceeded to rip one down the line that went for an RBI double as third baseman Zach Miller was unable to come up with it. Leading 4-2, Locante came on in relief of McCray in the bottom of the frame and dispatched the Rebels on just nine pitches.
With their first ninth-inning lead in an SEC game this year, the Vols were not about to waste it. On the very first offering of the inning, Polk lofted one to right that cleared the wall in landed in the Tennessee bullpen to give him the first two-home run game of his career.
Up by three going into the bottom of the ninth, Raleigh called upon Ramsey to close out the game for the first time this year after he earned four saves during his freshman campaign. His outing certainly was not without some suspense, however, as he walked the first two batters he faced to bring the tying run to the plate. He buckled down though and was able to catch Kevin Mort looking at a 2-2 fastball on the outside corner for the first out.
It looked like Ramsey had ended the game just two pitches later when Ferguson hit what seemed like a textbook double play, but the relay throw to first pulled Cody Hawn off the bag and allowed the contest to continue. The minor miscue just delayed the inevitable, however, as Yarbrough grounded out harmlessly to first to finish off the UT triumph.
The Vols will go for their first SEC series victory Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. CT. The contest will be televised on SportSouth with UT's Bob Kesling and Rusty Ensor on the call. For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.