April 22, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
CULLOWHEE, N.C. - The University of Tennessee baseball team scored 11 unanswered runs over the final five innings to claim an 18-8 triumph over Western Carolina on Wednesday night at Childress Field at Hennon Stadium in Cullowhee, N.C. Freshman Nick Blount earned his second career victory with 4.2 sparkling innings of relief, allowing just one hit during his time on the mound.
"We swung the bats well again tonight, but the biggest thing for us was Nick Blount," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "He was the difference in the game. We've been looking for a performance like that for a while and he just did a phenomenal job. We can certainly build off this win. Our bullpen has been struggling a bit lately, so that made what Nick did even more impressive. Sometimes it is like free-throw shooting and you are able to gain some confidence and grab some momentum. Hopefully this will carry over to the rest of our staff this weekend."
The win was especially sweet for Raleigh who served as the head coach at Western Carolina for eight seasons from 2000-07 after playing for the Catamounts from 1988-91. During his stint as the skipper at WCU, Raleigh amassed a record of 257-209, reaching the NCAA Tournament twice, winning two Southern Conference regular-season championships and claiming a SoCon tournament title.
"It was certainly tough for me to come back here, because I've spent a lot of games in the other dugout, probably close to 1,000 as a coach and a player," Raleigh said. "I wanted to win the game, obviously, because we take a lot of pride in the Tennessee program and wanted to come back here and show people what we've done."
Blount came on in relief in the third inning and proceeded to sit down the first 11 Catamount hitters that he faced. He finally allowed a baserunner in the seventh when he hit the leadoff batter. He also gave up a single, but ended up facing just one over the minimum as he induced an inning-ending double play on his career-high 57th pitch of the night.
For the sixth time this season, all nine Volunteer starters had at least one hit, led by a three-hit performances by juniors Cody Hawn and Blake Forsythe and sophomore Zach Osborne. In all, UT scored its 18 runs on 20 total this. Hawn knocked in five runs in the win, while Forsythe tallied four RBIs, as both players finished a triple away from the cycle with their seventh home runs of the season, a double and a single. Hawn also collected a sacrifice fly to increase his team-leading RBI total to 38 for the season.
Juniors Khayyan Norfork had a pair of hits, including his second longball in a UT uniform, as did fellow classmate Matt Duffy and freshman Chris Fritts. Senior Cody Grisham added a pinch-hit, two RBI single in the eighth as well. Junior P.J. Polk, meanwhile, reached base seven times, tying a Tennessee single-game record with five walks in the contest. Former Vols J.P. Arencibia and Chase Headley are the only other two players to ever accomplish the feat before Polk.
The UT offense got rolling early, scoring in each of the first three innings. The Big Orange wasted little time grabbing the momentum as its first three runners of the game all reached base, two of which came home to score. Norfork kicked things off with a double off the very top of the wall in left-center, missing a home run by about a foot. Junior Josh Liles followed with a single before Polk was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Hawn then plated the initial run of the contest when he lifted a sacrifice fly to straight-away left field. Just seconds later, an error by WCU shortstop Austin Schultz allowed Liles to race home from second to put the Vols up 2-0. The Catamounts answered right back, however, using a hit batter, four singles and a wild pitch to score three in the bottom of the frame to grab the lead, 3-2.
The Vols were undeterred though and tacked on five more runs over the next two innings with four in the second and another in the third to take a 7-3 lead. Fritts started off the second with a single on the second offering he saw through the left-side of the infield. Osborne then ripped a base-knock to center and Norfork followed with a walk to load the bases.
With a new pitcher on the mound, Kyle Stewart, in place of starter Vance Chavis, Liles was able to lay off a 3-2 pitch to pick up an RBI with a walk of his own. Polk then followed with a three-RBI, bases-clearing double off the base of the wall in right center. Although that would be all they would get that frame, the Vols added another tally to the scoreboard in the top of the third as Forsythe took a 1-1 pitch and parked it over the "Purple Monster" in left for a solo home run to put UT up 7-3.
Once again, however, Western Carolina responded in immediate fashion, scoring five times in the bottom of the third to regain the lead at 8-7. The Catamounts got the first two runners on base with a double and another hit batter. After a fly out, the next four hitters reached via an error, a single, yet another hit by pitch and a double down the left-field line. Blount then came out of the pen and got a pair of groundouts to stop the bleeding.
From that point on, it was all Tennessee as Blount, sophomore Josh Allman and senior Steve Crnkovich combined to hold WCU off the scoreboard for the final six innings of play while the offense erupted for 11 unanswered runs during that time.
Following a scoreless fourth inning, Norfork tied the game up with one swing with one out in the fifth, blasting a first-pitch fastball to left for a solo home run that knotted the score up at 8-8. It wasn't tied for long though, as Polk was issued a four-pitch walk with two outs on the board and Hawn followed with his team-leading 19th two-out hit of the year, a double to right-center, to bring him home from first and give the Big Orange the lead for good.
With Blount dealing on the mound, the Tennessee offense continued to roll, batting around in both the seventh and eighth innings, scoring four and five runs in those frames, respectively. The highlight in the seventh came when Forsythe ripped a double down the left-field line to plate a pair of runs. He also had an RBI single in the eighth after Hawn went yard with a runner on as the second batter of the frame. Grisham knocked in a pair of runs as well with a single to center after coming on as a pinch hitter.
The Volunteers will return to Southeastern Conference play this weekend when No. 15 Vanderbilt makes the trip to Rocky Top for a three-game set. The first two games of the series will be televised on ESPNU and CSS with first pitch set for 7 p.m. on both Friday, April 23 and Saturday, April 24. The Big Orange and the Commodores will then close out the series with a 2 p.m. showdown on Sunday, April 25. For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.