April 4, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
OXFORD, Miss. - The University of Tennessee baseball team battled back from four different deficits and scored six two-out runs in the eighth and ninth innings to defeat 11th-ranked Ole Miss, 10-6, and pick up its first Southeastern Conference series victory of the season, Sunday afternoon at Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field in Oxford, Miss.
"We had so many guys step up for us today," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "The biggest thing today was our two-out hitting. We just did a tremendous job of doing what we needed to do and I'm really happy with that.
"I thought Steven Gruver battled hard and (Steve) Crnkovich and Will (Locante) did a good job of keeping us in the game and, of course, Matt Ramsey did his thing at the end. Charley Thurber and Khayyan (Norfork) came up huge for us at the plate. It was just a complete team win and something we can build on."
Sophomore Charley Thurber, who came into the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning, finished with a pair of hits and two RBIs, while junior Khayyan Norfork knocked in a career-high four runs with a 3-for-5 effort at the plate. Junior Josh Liles also added two hits, in addition to scoring a pair of runs and tallying an RBI of his own.
"We decided to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves," Thurber said. "We have so much talent on this team at every position. We just went out and played our game and, obviously, it worked out for us this weekend."
For the second straight day, sophomores Matt Ramsey and Will Locante shut the Rebels down in the late innings, combining to throw 2.2 scoreless frames on Sunday. Locante worked around three hits and a pair of walks in an inning of work, while Ramsey came on to get a huge double play to end the eighth before striking out two in the ninth to earn the first victory of his collegiate career.
"Coach (Raleigh) is always telling us that we are really close and just about to turn the corner," Ramsey said. "We showed that yesterday and we just came out ready to play again today and got another big win."
Trailing by two entering the eighth, Tennessee exploded for six two-out runs over the final two frames. Ole Miss relief pitcher Brett Huber wasted little time putting a pair of outs up on the scoreboard in the eighth, striking out the first two batters. Sophomore Zach Osborne got the Vols rolling by punching a single to left before moving up to second on a wild pitch.
Thurber then stepped to the plate in place of freshman Chris Fritts and pushed a single the opposite way through the left side of the infield to bring Osborne home from second. Junior P.J. Polk then walked to put a pair of runners on for Norfork who drilled one through the right side to tie the game as Thurber raced around from second to touch home.
Ole Miss tried to answer in the bottom of the frame, loading the bases with just one out. The Big Orange had other ideas though and Ramsey came out of the bullpen to induce an inning-ending, 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Matt Smith to keep the Rebels off the board.
With the momentum clearly on their side, the Vols tacked on four more runs in the ninth to put the game away. Liles got on base via an error by the Rebel second baseman to start the inning. Ramsey tried to bunt him over, but popped it up behind the plate for the first out. Following a walk to junior Matt Duffy, Ole Miss moved within one out of ending the inning when Osborne flew out to shallow left.
Once again, however, Thurber came through in the clutch, looping a 1-2 pitch to right for his second two-out, RBI single in as many innings. Polk then singled home another run, extending his hitting streak to 10 games in the process and Norfork doubled down the left-field line to give UT its ninth and 10th runs of the game.
With a four-run lead in hand, Ramsey went back out in the bottom of the ninth and worked around a one-out single to finish off the victory with a pair of punchouts and a flyout.
Ole Miss actually struck the first blow of the day, scoring a run in the second on a pair of doubles off of UT starter Steven Gruver. The Vols responded immediately, however, evening things up with a run of its own in the top of the third. Duffy kicked things off with a double to the gap in right center and an error by Tanner Mathis in left allowed Osborne to reach first safely. A sacrifice bunt by Fritts moved the runners up 90 feet and Polk was drilled by a pitch to load the bases with one out. Norfork then flew out to deep center to bring Duffy in from third to knot the game back up at 1-1.
It took just four pitches in the bottom half of the frame for Ole Miss to regain the advantage though as Tim Ferguson doubled and Alex Yarbrough followed with an RBI single. Gruver immediately erased Yarbrough from the basepaths, getting Smith to ground into the first of three double plays for Tennessee on the day. A flyout two batters later ended the stanza.
Once again, the Orange and White responded in a hurry, plating two more runs in the top of the fourth to take a 3-2 advantage. Liles tied things back up at two just two pitches into the frame, crushing a 1-0 fastball from Ole Miss starter David Goforth over the wall in left-center for his second longball of the season. A double by Ramsey and a single off the bat of Duffy put runners on the corners for Osborne who laid down a perfect safety squeeze to move Ramsey up the final 90 feet.
Although Tennessee kept the Rebels off the board in the bottom of the frame, Ole Miss did the same to the Volunteers in the top of the fifth before taking the lead back with two runs in its half of the inning with three consecutive singles and a run-scoring wild pitch.
Neither team was able to get anything going in the sixth before the Big Orange pushed a run across in the top of the seventh to return the game to a deadlock at 6-6. Norfork continued his tear at the plate by lacing a one-out single to center and promptly moved up to second on a balk by Rebel reliever Matt Tracy. He then came home to score seconds later when junior Cody Hawn picked up his only hit of the series with an opposite field single to left.
The back-and-forth battle continued in the bottom of the seventh as Ole Miss moved back ahead by two with three singles, a sac bunt and a wild pitch off of UT senior Steve Crnkovich and Locante to move the tally on the scoreboard to 6-4 in their favor and set up the Tennessee two-out heroics in the final two frames.
The Big Orange will return home to Knoxville with its first series victory in Oxford since the 2002 campaign. UT will host Western Carolina at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7, before welcoming No. 8 Florida to Rocky Top for a three-game set next weekend. For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.