May 18, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The University of Tennessee baseball team broke open a 3-3 tie with nine unanswered runs over their final two trips to the plate to claim a 12-3 triumph over UNC Asheville (15-33) on Tuesday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville. The win moves the Volunteers' record to 30-23 on the season, marking the 18th time in school history that they have reached the 30-win plateau.
"It might be an understatement to say that we started out a little slow, but we were able to get it going," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "I thought (Steve) Crnkovich was the difference tonight. He went out there and threw up zeroes to keep the game from getting out of control until we were able to relax and get some hits. It was good to see Josh (Liles) and Khayyan (Norfork) come around and get some hits tonight. They struggled last weekend and we really need some table-setters for Blake (Forsythe) and Cody (Hawn), so it was great to see them get going."
Junior Khayyan Norfork paced the Big Orange offense in the victory over the Bulldogs, tying career highs with four RBIs and three runs scored while going 2-for-3 at the plate with a pair of walks and his third home run of the season. Fellow classmate Josh Liles also had two hits in the contest, including his third round-tripper of the year as well, as he went back-to-back with Norfork in the eighth inning.
Sophomore Charley Thurber had a strong day in the batter's box as well, finishing 2-for-4 with a double, a triple, an RBI and scoring a run. The Elmira, N.Y., native has now hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games. During that stretch, he is hitting at a .486 clip (17-for-35) with seven extra-base hits, including two home runs, three doubles and two triples. He also has 10 RBIs in that run and has raised his batting average 68 points from .244 to .312.
Senior Steve Crnkovich moved back into a tie with Stephen McCray for the team lead in wins, improving his record to 6-1 on the season with 3.2 strong innings of relief. He allowed just one hit and walked one, while striking out three. The Vols also got solid efforts out of freshman Drew Steckenrider, juniors Bryan Morgado and D.J. Leffler and sophomore Will Locante.
Steckenrider earned the second start of his collegiate career, tossing two scoreless frames with a pair of strikeouts before Morgado took over in the third when he allowed just one hit and struck out two of his own. Following Crnkovich's stellar stint on the mound, Locante came on in the eighth and retired all three batters he faced on just six pitches before handing the ball over to Leffler in the ninth who picked up a strikeout in his scoreless inning of work.
The UT offense struggled to get going early as UNC Asheville starter Drew Spear held the Vols hitless through the first four frames, although he did walk four. After the Bulldogs took a 3-0 lead in the top of the fourth, the Big Orange finally got on the board, tying the game with three tallies of its own off of relief pitcher Carson McLean.
Thurber greeted McLean rudely, finishing off a nine-pitch at-bat with UT's first hit of the day as he doubled over the right-fielder's head. McLean then followed by plunking freshman Chris Fritts in the left shoulder with a 1-2 fastball and sophomore Zach Osborne followed with a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position. Norfork then made the most of the opportunity, ripping a single to left to bring both runners home to score.
Although a fly out put two outs up on the board, Norfork quickly moved all the way to third when McLean's pick-off attempt sailed past the first baseman for an error. Junior P.J. Polk then made UNC Asheville pay, lacing a single to right-center to allow Norfork to cross the plate and tie the game.
After Crnkovich struck out the side in the sixth and retired the side in order in the seventh on just 12 pitches, the Orange and White finally got the big inning it had been looking for all night, batting around and scoring six runs on five hits in the bottom of the seventh.
With one out, Osborne got the rally started by bouncing a single back up the middle. Following a walk to Norfork, Liles singled through the left side to plate Osborne and give UT its first lead of the game. Liles promptly stole second before Polk walked to load the bases with just one out. Junior Cody Hawn then picked up an RBI when he hit a squibber off the end of the bat that snuck between the third baseman and shortstop for a single.
With the bases still loaded, UNC Asheville called upon Robert McIntosh to try and stop the bleeding. Before he was even able to throw a pitch, however, he was called for a balk to bring in another run that put Tennessee up 6-3. The Vols weren't done just yet though as junior Blake Forsythe lifted a fly ball deep enough down the line in right to plate Polk from third. Junior Matt Duffy then followed with his team-leading 17th double of the season before coming home to score on a triple off the base of the wall in center by Thurber.
Now leading by a commanding six-run margin at 9-3, UT called Locante out of the bullpen for the top of the eighth. The Memphis, Tenn., native would need just six pitches to get out of the frame, throwing five strikes as he quickly sat the Bulldogs down in order to bring the Vol offense back to the plate.
The Big Orange would proceed to tack on three more insurance runs in its half of the eighth, doing so in almost instantaneous fashion against reliever Mike Vaughn. Pinch hitter Cody Stubbs laced the first pitch of the inning to right for a single and Norfork took the next offering and deposited it over the wall in left-center field for his third home run of the season. Liles would follow just five pitches later, smashing a 3-1 fastball to almost the exact same spot as Norfork's longball to put UT up 12-3.
The Vols will close out the regular-season portion of their 2010 campaign this week when they host Alabama for a crucial three-game set with potential postseason implications. UT and the Tide will square off at 7 p.m. on both Thursday, May 20 and Friday, May 21, before closing things out with a 1 p.m. showdown on Saturday, May 22. For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.