April 25, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Down to its last out and its final strike, the University of Tennessee baseball team rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, capped off by a bases loaded hit-by-pitch by senior Cody Grisham, to defeat No. 15 Vanderbilt, 4-3, and claim a doubleheader sweep and series win on Sunday afternoon in front of a season-high crowd of 3,136 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville.
"Both games were unbelievable games, I thought we battled and competed all day," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "I thought we played with tremendous heart. In the first game, Blake (Forsythe) getting a big hit was huge, (Stephen) McCray was unbelievable and (Matt) Ramsey was the best I've seen him all season. In the second game, (Steve) Crnkovich was phenomenal and we just battled the entire game. We were down to our last out, nobody on and then P.J. (Polk) gets on and starts it. Next thing you know we've scored two runs. Hopefully, today is something we can continue to build on.
"We pitched great all day. Our pitchers were unbelievable and that is huge for us. We definitely needed that. That's exactly what we need to do in order for us to be a good team and we got that today. It's a tough to (keep the team's mind in the game), but I told them that we've got to continue to battle offensively. In the first game, we had a lot of hard-hit balls that didn't get through, a couple of balls that I thought were home runs get knocked down by the wind. We were hitting it right at them and you start to think that it's not your day. But I told the guys that you've got to keep battling and good things will happen and they did.
"I told the team before the games today that ordinary people do ordinary things, great people do great things. Steven (McCray), Matt (Ramsey) and Blake were definitely great today. Blake's a great player, he's not having a bad year if you look at his home runs and RBI's, it's just the expectations on him are so high."
With the Commodores leading 3-2 going into the final frame, VU starter Taylor Hill quickly put two outs on the scoreboard with a groundout and a three-pitch strikeout. He then got his first two pitches to junior P.J. Polk across the plate to put his team one strike away from victory. Fortunately for fans of the Orange and White, Polk proceeded to loop a single into center to start a stretch in which five straight Volunteers reached base to close out the game.
Following Polk's single, junior Cody Hawn was issued a five-pitch walk by Commodore reliever Grayson Garvin. The Vols then tied the contest when pinch-hitter Matt Hamaker dribbled a grounder to first for an infield single. The first baseman's toss to the pitcher covering the bag sailed past him toward the UT dugout and Polk came home to score on the error.
With the score now tied and runners on runners on first and second, Vanderbilt made another pitching change, bringing righty Drew Hayes in to face junior Blake Forsythe, the hero in the first game of the doubleheader. He wouldn't be given the opportunity to win the second game though, as Hayes walked him on four straight pitches to load the bases for senior pinch-hitter Cody Grisham. After working the count to 2-2, Grisham fouled off three straight fastballs before Hayes hit him in the shoulder with a curveball to plate pinch-runner Chris Fritts from third to end the game.
The dramatics in the seventh inning would have never been possible if not for some stellar work by senior Steve Crnkovich out of the bullpen. The 6-4 righthander come on in relief in the third inning with Tennessee trailing 3-2. He proceeded to throw five scoreless frames, allowing just four hits, walking one and striking out four to keep Tennessee within striking distance. His effort netted him his fourth victory of the season, while Garvin dropped to 1-1 with the loss for the Commodores.
Sophomore Charley Thurber also came through early in the game for the Vols, as he finished 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs on a two-out double in the first and a solo home run in the third. The longball was his sixth of the season, putting him in third on the team. Polk and freshman Cody Stubbs also had a pair of hits in the contest, with Polk scoring two runs as well.
Just like the first game of the day, Vanderbilt actually took the early lead, scoring all three of its runs in the top of the first. It took advantage of UT freshman Nick Blount hitting the first batter of the game before a sac bunt and a fly out moved the runner to third with two outs. The Commodores then got big two-out hits from Aaron Westlake and Joe Loftus to bring home a trio of runs.
The Big Orange got one of the runs back in the following frame to make it 3-1. After a strikeout to start things off, Polk slapped a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield for UT's first hit of the game. Although Hawn popped up to the shortstop in shallow left field, Thurber followed with a two-out double to left-center on the very next pitch that allowed Polk to race all the way around from first to score.
After Blount and Crnkovich kept VU off the board in the next two innings, Thurber struck again with two outs in the bottom of the third, crushing a 3-1 offering from Hill the opposite way for a solo home run. The ball, which easily cleared "The Porch," looked like it might hook foul, but it stayed true just long enough to sneak around the foul pole and put Tennessee within one at 3-2.
That would remain the score over the next four innings as Crnkovich and Hill continued to put zeroes up on the board for their respective teams until the Vols' last-frame heroics.
The Big Orange will look to carry its momentum over into a mid-week showdown against another in-state rival in Belmont. UT will host the Bruins at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 27, before closing out its season-long seven-game homestand with a three-game series against Kentucky April 30-May 2. For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.