May 7, 2011
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - After falling behind by four in the first four innings, the Tennessee baseball team battled back to bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth before Mississippi State was able to finish off the contest and claim the series with a 5-3 victory on Saturday evening at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
"We didn't play a bad game at all," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "I thought we did some good things. We just couldn't get the big innings, that's all there was to it. Nick Blount fought through it a little bit and did a good job. I thought our bullpen did a good job, better than we've been doing. We've had people on in 16 of the 18 innings this series. The kids are playing hard and that's all you can ask. We need everybody on board in a situation like this, as limited as we are. It's tough."
Volunteer senior Josh Liles continued to have a terrific weekend at the plate, walking a career high four times, scoring a run and stealing his ninth base of the season. He has been retired just twice in 10 total plate appearances against Mississippi State this weekend.
Fellow classmate Khayyan Norfork knocked in a pair of runs with an RBI single in the fifth and a bases-loaded, run-scoring groundout in the seventh. Matt Duffy added a two-hit performance for the Vols.
On the mound, freshman relief pitcher Nick Williams was spectacular, striking out three of the five batters he faced in a perfect 1.2 innings of work. Sophomore Nick Blount (1-3) suffered the loss for UT after yielding four runs on six hits in four frames, while Nick Routt (1-2) picked up the win for the Bulldogs after allowing three runs on five hits and five walks in his six innings.
Mississippi State struck early and often, jumping out to a four-run lead through the first four innings, capped off by back-to-back home runs by Nick Vickerson and Jaron Shepherd. Tennessee got a run back in the home half of the fourth when Davis Morgan came through with a two-out RBI single, but the Bulldogs got the run right back in the fifth to go ahead 5-1.
The Volunteers answered with another run in the bottom of the fifth as Liles drew a two-out walk, stole second and came home to score on a single to right-center by Norfork. Following a scoreless sixth, UT scored its final run of the evening in the seventh. Sophomore Chris Fritts led off the frame with a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Wes Walker and to third on an error by the shortstop that allowed freshman Andrew Toles to reach safely. Another walk to Liles loaded the bases before Norfork tallied his second RBI of the day with a groundout to third that allowed Fritts to touch home.
Tennessee tried to mount a ninth-inning rally, bringing the tying run to the plate after a one-out walk to pinch-hitter Chris Pierce. Bulldog relief pitcher Taylor Stark was able to bring the game to a close just two batters later, however, recording his second save of the year after getting a force out at second and his fourth strikeout of the game.
The series finale is set for 2 p.m. on Sunday. Senior southpaw Rob Catapano (2-4, 6.38) will get the start for Tennessee, while right-hander Chris Stratton (4-5, 4.98) will take the ball for Mississippi State. The contest will be televised live on SportSouth with UT's Bob Kesling and Rusty Ensor on the call.