May 1, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Although Kentucky erased a five-run deficit to tie the game in the sixth, the University of Tennessee baseball team was able to withstand the Wildcat rally and score twice in the eighth on a two-RBI single by junior Josh Liles to even the weekend series with an 8-6 triumph on Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Sophomore Matt Ramsey continued his dominance on the mound, twirling 3.1 shutout innings to earn his third win of the season. The Knoxville native allowed just two hits and a pair of walks while tying his career high with four strikeouts. Over his last three outings, Ramsey has not allowed a run in eight innings. During that stretch, he has yielded just three hits and two walks while striking out nine.
"It was a very emotional game," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "We went up early and they did a great job of bouncing back and battling, but we were fortunate to come out on top. Obviously, the difference to me was Matt Ramsey. He was phenomenal again, just as he was last week against Vanderbilt. They had all of the momentum when we brought him into the game and he just shut them down the rest of the way. He threw up zeroes and gave us a chance to win the game.
You hate to use your closer for three innings, but the way I look at it, it was do-or-die for us. We had to win today, we have to win tomorrow. There's no tomorrow and that's how we played it. Matt just hasn't been getting the ball enough. He's good enough to be a starter. If he wasn't so good at being a closer, he'd be a starter for us. He has a great mentality and he bounces back well. He just hasn't been getting enough opportunities. That game was on the line in the sixth and I wasn't going to let us fall down one or two (runs) and then bring him in to pitch the ninth.
"I thought we had a lot of guys do a lot of good things today. Blake Forsythe threw out a couple of runners, which was huge. Josh Liles got a couple of hits, Cody Hawn played well and P.J. (Polk) had a great game."
Juniors P.J. Polk and Cody Hawn each hit home runs for the Volunteers in the victory. For Polk, he became the first UT player this season to reach double-digits with his 10th of the year, while Hawn blasted his eighth longball.
Polk also becomes just the fifth Tennessee player since 1980 to have 10+ home runs and 20+ stolen bases in a single season, as he also swiped his 21st bag on Saturday, while going 3-for-4 with three RBIs and a run scored. Jeff Christensen accomplished the feat in both 2000 and 2001, while Jeff Foster, Chris Burke and Eli Iorg did it in 1993, 2001 and 2005, respectively.
Hawn finished the game with three RBIs as well, all on his round-tripper, while going 2-for-3 with a walk and a run. Junior Blake Forsythe also notched a multi-hit contest, going 2-for-5 on the day with a pair of singles.
Senior right-hander Stephen McCray started for the Vols but did not factor into the decision after leaving the game with the score tied after six. He twirled 5.2 innings on the day, allowing six runs on eight hits and three walks. He also struck out four.
The Orange and White came racing out of the gates, getting a runner into scoring position just three pitches into the bottom of the first as junior Khayyan Norfork was hit by a pitch and Liles moved him up 90 feet with a sacrifice bunt. Norfork then took off for third on the very next pitch, but was caught stealing by UK catcher Marcus Nidiffer. The Vols kept their foot on the gas pedal though as Polk took the next pitch and deposited it over the wall in right center to give his team an early 1-0 lead.
Although Kentucky put runners on the corners with just one out in the top of the second, McCray worked his way out of the jam with a pair of fly outs to sophomore Charley Thurber in right. Tennessee then jumped out to a 5-0 lead with four runs in its half of the second.
Forsythe kicked off the frame with a sharp single through the left-side of the infield on the first offering he saw, but the Wildcats erased him from the basepaths on a fielder's choice off the bat of Thurber. A single to right by Ramsey put runners on first and second for Hawn who promptly launched a rocket to the opposite field that easily cleared "The Porch" in left for his eighth home run of the 2010 campaign.
That would not be all for the Vols though, as sophomore Zach Osborne followed with a high chopper to third that went for an infield single. He then moved up 90 feet on a groundout by Norfork before coming home to score on an RBI single to right by Polk to make it 5-0 in favor of Tennessee.
The Wildcats were not going to go away without a fight though, scoring twice in the fourth after a scoreless third by both starters. Lance Ray got UK on the scoreboard with a leadoff shot to right-center to lead off the stanza. Andy Burns followed with a one-out double two batters later and moved to third on a groundout before scoring on a wild pitch.
The Big Orange got one of the runs back in the bottom of the fourth on another run-scoring single by Polk, but Kentucky countered in the top of the fifth with another solo home run, this one by Gunner Glad, to keep its deficit at three runs with the scoreboard reading 6-3.
After Tennessee was dispatched in order in the bottom of the fifth, UK was able to tie the contest up at 6-6 with a three-spot in the following frame. All three runs came with two outs, as McCray got the first two batters to fly out. He then hit Taylor Black with a 1-1 pitch, who quickly stole second to move into scoring position.
An infield single by Chris Bisson moved Black to third and, after Bisson stole second, Chad Wright roped a double to left-center to bring both runners in and end McCray's evening. Glad then greeted Ramsey with a triple over Liles' head in center on a 3-2 fastball to score Bisson and tie the game. Ramsey kept it that way though, getting Ray to fly out to Polk in left to end the inning.
The score remained deadlocked until the bottom of the eighth when the Orange and White finished off the scoring with a pair of runs. Hawn got things started for UT, bouncing a single back up the middle. The Vols then got a bit of a break as Osborne grounded one to the shortstop, but the throw to second pulled the second baseman off the bag, allowing Hawn to slide in safely.
At that point, UK Head Coach Gary Henderson would make the call to his bullpen to bring Wildcat closer Matt Little into the contest. He proceeded to plunk Norfork with his first pitch to load the bases with nobody out for Liles. After watching the first pitch go for a ball, the Jackson, Tenn., native looped a single to center to plate both Osborne and senior Cody Grisham who had come on to pinch run for Hawn.
Ramsey then came out in the ninth and closed the door. Kentucky did try to mount a rally, putting a pair of runners on with one out after back-to-back walks, but Ramsey got Farris to pop up to Osborne in shallow left and Burns to fly out to Thurber on the warning track in right to end the game.
The Vols and Wildcats will square off in a rubber match to decide the series at 3 p.m. on Sunday. The contest will be televised live on SportSouth with Bob Kesling and former UT standout Rusty Ensor on the call. For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.