May 2, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - After Kentucky and Tennessee combined to hit 12 home runs in the first two games of the series, the Volunteers used pitching, defense and small-ball to claim a 3-1 victory over the Wildcats on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The win gives UT its second straight Southeastern Conference series victory as it has now won four of its last five league contests.
"Our pitching was outstanding today," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "Steven Gruver gave us an unbelievable start, Will Locante did a great job and (Steve) Crnkovich came in with two on, nobody out and got their three and four hitters to get out of it. Today was certainly tough, but it was a great win for us. The wind was blowing hard and runs were hard to come by, but we scrapped and just did a heck of a job.
"I think (this game) did (have a postseason atmosphere), it had to. This one was huge for us, not just because of the fact that they're one of the teams we're battling to go to Hoover, but if we finish in a tie with them, we've got the tiebreaker. It really gives us a one-game cushion on them. Even though we're up one game on them now, if we end up with the same record, we're going."
Sophomore southpaw Steven Gruver provided the Big Orange with a gutsy effort on the mound, shrugging off a first-inning run to post five straight shutout innings and earn his third win of the season. He finished with six frames of work, allowing just the one run on four hits and two walks while striking out a pair of UK batters.
"(Gruver) was unbelievable," Raleigh said. "He hasn't been pitching that great lately, and I don't think he had tremendous stuff out there today, but he battled. He's got tremendous character. His arm isn't quite where it was early in the year, but he's re-invented himself to find a way to win. He gave up a run in the first, but he settled down and they didn't touch him after that and that was the key to the game, no doubt."
Fellow classmate Will Locante followed with a scoreless seventh, but found himself in a bit of a jam in the eighth after allowing the first two batters to reach. It turned out to be much ado about nothing though, as senior Steve Crnkovich came on to get the next three hitters before working around a leadoff single in the ninth to close out the game and pick up the first save of his collegiate career.
The Vols had just six hits on the day, but used some aggressive base-running to make the most out of them. Junior Khayyan Norfork was the catalyst for UT, going 1-for-3 with an RBI groundout and two stolen bases, including one of home plate to give the Orange and White a late insurance run.
Sophomore Matt Ramsey did not have a hit in the game, but recorded Tennessee's only other RBI with a groundout that plated the eventual game-winning run. Junior Cody Hawn was also hitless, but he didn't have many opportunities to put the ball in play as he walked three times.
Making the UT victory even more impressive was the fact that it had to shake off a tough start to the game as Kentucky scored a pair of runs with two outs in the opening frame of action. Gruver retired the first two batters without much fanfare, but Gunner Glad kept the inning alive by slapping a single to left. A 3-2 curveball from Gruver on his ninth pitch to the next batter, Lance Ray, narrowly missed the outside corner to put runners on first and second. Braden Kapteyn then hit a slow roller between third and short on the very next pitch that was just inches out of the range of both Cody Grisham and Zach Osborne to plate Glad from second and give UK a quick 1-0 lead.
Although the Vol offense wouldn't get going until the third, it wouldn't matter as Gruver faced just two over the minimum over the next five innings before leaving with a 3-1 lead after the sixth.
Tennessee took advantage of a couple of Kentucky miscues to tie things up in the third. Osborne got the stanza started with a high chopper over the third baseman's head for a single. UK starter Jordan Cooper then struck out Grisham, but the ball got away from the catcher just long enough to allow Osborne to move up 90 feet to second. A balk then advanced him to third and Norfork hit a scorcher to first, but Osborne was moving on contact and scored easily without a throw.
The Big Orange threatened to put a big inning up on the board in the sixth, loading the bases with nobody out, but were only able to scratch across a single run. It was enough though as it proved to be the eventual game-winning tally. Junior P.J. Polk got things off to a quick start, taking the first pitch of the frame and ripping a sharp grounder under the third baseman's glove into left for a single. Hawn then walked on four pitches to bring Forsythe to the plate. He would square around as if he were going to lay down a sac bunt, but pulled back at the last second and laced an opposite-field single to right to load the bases.
Forsythe's single would mark the end of Cooper's day as UK Head Coach Gary Henderson made the call to the bullpen for Mike Kaczmarek who had thrown a scoreless ninth inning in the Wildcat's win on Friday night. Although he would get pinch-hitter Matt Hamaker looking at a 2-2 curveball on the outside corner, sophomore Matt Ramsey took the next pitch and hit it sharply right back to the mound. Kaczmarek would knock it down, but the run would score easily by the time he picked it up and threw Ramsey out at first on a bang-bang play.
Tennessee struck again in the bottom of the seventh, using a pair of interesting plays to do so. With one out on the board, Norfork laced a first-pitch fastball into centerfield for a single. He would take off for second just two pitches later as the Vols had called a hit-and-run. The pitch would go at the feet of Liles, who swung to protect the runner, but it bounced back to the screen anyway, allowing Norfork to move from first to third on a strike.
With a runner on third and just one out, Kentucky would make another pitching change, bringing in Nick Kennedy in the middle of the at-bat. He would throw three straight balls to walk Liles, however, putting runners on the corners with Hawn at the dish. Before the first pitch to Hawn, however, Liles took off early for second, intentionally getting in a run down in an attempt to allow Norfork to score. The tactic worked to perfection as the throw from the first baseman sailed past the catcher and Norfork stole home easily. Liles would move to third on the error, but would be stranded there as Kennedy was able to get a pair of foul outs to end the inning.
Kentucky threatened to tie the game in the top of the eighth as Chris Bisson led off the frame with a looping double down the right-field line and Locante hit the next batter to put two runners on with nobody out. Crnkovich would come out of the pen and shut the Wildcats down, however, getting Glad and Ray both to foul out to Grisham at third before Kapteyan sent a grounder Grisham's way for an inning-ending fielder's choice.
Following a scoreless bottom of the eighth by the Orange and White, UK would get its leadoff runner on base to start the ninth, but a groundout, a strikeout and a fly out brought the game to a close and gave Crnkovich his first save in four collegiate seasons.
The Vols will have a week off for the first time this season as they do not have a mid-week contest due to finals. They will return to the diamond on Friday, May 7, when they travel to Athens, Ga., to kick off a three-game set against Georgia at 6:30 p.m. at Foley Field. UT will then take on the Bulldogs in a pair of televised contests the next two days, as the two squads will square off on CSS at 1 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.