May 21, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - As the old adage goes, "Baseball is a game of inches." The University of Tennessee baseball team found that out the hard way on Friday night, as Alabama's Jake Smith hit a towering fly ball in the top of the 11th inning that cleared the wall in left by about a foot to give the Crimson Tide (33-21, 14-16 SEC) a 4-2 victory over the Volunteers (30-25, 12-17) at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The loss officially eliminates Tennessee from SEC Tournament contention.
The Orange and White brought the tying run to the plate three times in the bottom of the 11th, but a diving catch by Alabama centerfielder Taylor Dugas on a sinking liner by UT junior Josh Liles brought the game to a close.
"Tough game," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "It's been going that way for us, unfortunately. We hit three balls as hard as you can hit them in the 11th inning and they were all outs. You've got to give Alabama credit, they pitched unbelievably. They made every play in an 11-inning game. Their starting pitcher didn't walk anybody. They weren't giving us anything. I guess what I'm saying is I'm not disappointed in the way we played, we played as hard as we could. (Steven) Gruver was great, (Matt) Ramsey was unbelievable, they got a home run off of him by six inches. That's just baseball. It was a great game.
"We had to think it was going to turn for us and it didn't. What else can you say? You've got to give them credit, but we had chances to win the game. It's not like we didn't have chances and were out of the game. We had some chances and just couldn't get that big hit. That game was so tight and we never thought we were out of it. Our guys played awful hard tonight."
Sophomore Matt Ramsey put forth a tremendously gutsy performance on the mound, but suffered the hard-fought loss. After coming on in relief in the sixth inning, the Knoxville native went the rest of the way for the Big Orange, blowing by his previous career high by pitching six strong innings. His previous best was 3.2 innings of work against Vanderbilt earlier this season. Ramsey also doubled up his previous personal best in strikeouts, fanning eight Tide hitters on Friday night, while allowing three runs on five hits and a walk.
Ramsey's fellow classmate, southpaw Steven Gruver, started the game for the Vols, putting forth one of his best performances of the season with five innings of one-run ball. He struck out five, walked just one and yielded four hits.
Tennessee actually needed some ninth-inning heroics to send the game to extra-innings, as it entered the bottom of the ninth down one, 2-1. Those heroics would come from junior Cody Hawn who led off the frame by absolutely crushing an 0-1 offering from Nathan Kilcrease over the wall in left-center to set off the fireworks and tie the game.
After Ramsey sat the Tide down quietly in the top of the 10th, the Vols would come within 90 feet of winning the game as they loaded the bases with two outs. Osborne drew a one-out walk to start the rally and promptly stole second before moving to third on a groundout by pinch-hitter Cody Stubbs. UA relief pitcher Jake Smith then proceeded to walk both P.J. Polk and Charley Thurber to load the bases for Hawn, but there would be heroics for the second straight inning, as he got under the first pitch and hit a high foul ball to third that Cal Tinsley caught while falling to the ground.
Hawn finished the game with two hits, including his 14th home run of the season which ties him with Blake Forsythe for the team lead. It also marks the 36th round-tripper of his two-year career, moving him into a tie with Sonny Cortez (1996, 98) for third in the UT record books. He is just one behind Doug Hecker (1990-92) for second place and two behind Volunteer legend Todd Helton (1993-95) for the top spot in school history.
Liles also had two hits on the night and scored Tennessee's only other run in the game as he came home to score on an RBI groundout by senior Cody Grisham in the bottom of the third inning to give the Big Orange a 1-0 lead.
Alabama would tie the game in the top of the fifth with back-to-back doubles by Jon Kelton and Andrew Miller before taking a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth with a run-scoring single by Josh Rutledge.
The Vols will close out the 2010 regular season with the series finale against Alabama at 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.