May 7, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
ATHENS, Ga. - Senior Stephen McCray was masterful in the first Friday night start of his Tennessee career, twirling the Volunteers' first complete game in almost two years to lead his squad to a 4-1 victory in its series opener against Georgia with 3,327 on hand at Foley Field in Athens. Playing in front of numerous family and friends, the Lilburn, Ga., native set career highs with nine innings pitched and eight strikeouts as he improved to 5-3 on the season.
With the victory, Tennessee improved to 25-21 on the season and 9-13 in Southeastern Conference play, while Georgia fell to 13-31 and 3-17. The win also moved UT up into a tie for the eighth and final spot in the SEC Tournament with Alabama, as the Crimson Tide dropped a 9-3 decision to Florida in Tuscaloosa on Friday evening.
"Stephen was outstanding tonight," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "This was really important for us because we haven't been winning on Friday night and we've been playing really well on Saturday and Sunday. It's hard to win a series when you don't win on Friday. We've been fortunate to do it three times this year, but the odds aren't with you.
"Stephen had it all going tonight. He had his fastball and cutter really going and he got ahead of a lot of batters. The couple of times he did get in trouble, he pitched out of it. He's been doing that all year though. He's been a stud for us. I thought he got stronger as the game went on. He started getting a feel for all of his pitches and looked better later in the game than he did early on."
The complete game was UT's first since Nick Hernandez accomplished the feat in a 13-2 win over South Carolina on May 15, 2008. McCray allowed just the one run and it came in the first inning. He was able to settle down the rest of the way, finishing with four 1-2-3 frames. He also retired 10 of the final 11 batters that he faced to close out the game and allowed just two hits over his final seven innings of work. Much of his effectiveness on the evening came from the fact that he was constantly ahead in the count, as he threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 37 batters that he faced.
Offensively, junior Blake Forsythe and sophomore Charley Thurber led a nine-hit UT attack with a pair of hits and scored two runs each. Both of Forsythe's hits went for doubles as he was 2-for-4, while Thurber finished 2-for-3 with a double, a single and an RBI. Junior Matt Duffy and freshman Cody Stubbs also knocked in runs for the Orange and White on Friday night.
Tennessee was especially aggressive on the basebaths against the Bulldogs, swiping seven bags, led by two each from juniors Khayyan Norfork and Josh Liles. Duffy, Thurber and Stubbs also stole one base each, with Stubbs' being the first of his collegiate career. The seven stolen bases are the most by a UT team since it collected nine against Morehead State on Feb. 8, 2003.
Although Georgia was the first team to crack the scoreboard with a single, a stolen base and a two-out double in the bottom of the first inning, the Big Orange answered back immediately with two runs of its own in the following frame. Forsythe wasted little time getting things going, taking a 2-0 pitch and hitting a laser over the centerfielder's head for a leadoff double.
Thurber then looped a single into left to put runners on the corners with nobody out for Duffy. He would hit a high chopper to his counterpart at third to easily bring Forsythe home, but the throw from third baseman Todd Hankins could not be handled and Duffy and Thurber raced to second and third, respectively, on the error. Another groundball, this one by Stubbs to the shortstop, would allow Thurber to score to give the Vols a 2-1 advantage.
Neither team would manage to gather much steam offensively until the Bulldogs threatened to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth. After retiring eight straight, McCray walked consecutive batters and hit another to load the bases with just one out on the board. He would work his way out of the jam, however, getting UGA three-hole hitter Levi Hyams to foul out to Duffy near home plate and cleanup batter Zach Cone to fly out harmlessly to Josh Liles in center.
The Vols would use the momentum from those two big plays to their advantage in the next half-inning to put two more tallies on the scoreboard to run their lead to 4-1. Once again, Forsythe kicked off the frame with a double, ripping one down the left-field line. Thurber then pulled a pitch down the other line, that ricocheted off the first baseman's glove into the corner for another two-bagger that brought Forsythe in to score. UT then got another baserunner as Duffy followed with a four-pitch walk.
Following a strikeout by Stubbs, the Orange and White continued their aggression on the basepaths, putting on a double steal. Georgia catcher Christian Gillson would try to throw Thurber out at third, but his throw sailed well into left field to allow him to trot home for Tennessee's fourth run of the game.
At that point, the Vols just turned it over to McCray and watched him sit down Bulldog after Bulldog. After an error and a one-out single put runners on the corners in the bottom of the sixth, McCray proceeded to sit down nine straight Georgia hitters, including getting the final two batters in the sixth on strikeouts. UGA got a one-out single from pinch-hitter Zach Taylor in the bottom of the ninth, but it was too little, too late as McCray finished the game with another punchout and a groundout to short.
The Vols and Bulldogs will return to the diamond at 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. UT will send sophomore southpaw Steven Gruver (3-3, 5.72) to the hill, while Georgia will counter with senior right-hander Jeff Walters (1-5, 8.08). The game will be televised live on CSS (Comcast channel 33 in Knoxville) with Matt Stewart and Brian Jordan on the call. For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.