May 22, 2010
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - As it has done all season, the University of Tennessee baseball team kept fighting on Saturday. Unfortunately it just wasn't quite enough. The Volunteers clawed their way back from a five-run deficit only to see Alabama score three in the top of the eighth to claim a 9-7 win in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Tennessee concludes the 2010 regular season with an overall record of 30-26 and a 12-18 mark in Southeastern Conference play. Alabama will head to the SEC Tournament next week with a 34-21 record after going 15-15 in league action.
"It was a tough one, much like last night," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "We did a good job of getting back in it, we just couldn't hold it. We ran out of gas, out of guys on the mound. I thought (Steve) Crnkovich did a great job, but he just ran out of gas. I thought we did a heck of a job battling back today. We left more on than them and couldn't stay away from the big inning, all year really. That's what really hurt us. They scored eight of their nine runs in two innings.
"I think we did a lot of good things this year. We were one of the top fielding teams in the conference and scored a lot of runs. I think we were a really well-rounded team. Sometimes you get really, really close, but if you don't pitch well enough you won't win. We were certainly a lot better this year. Going into last weekend, we were tied for seventh and either of the last two games this weekend could have gone either way. Nothing went our way this weekend, but I don't think we're that far off."
Tennessee concludes the 2010 regular season with some of the best numbers in school history in several categories. As a team, the Vols hit a total of 81 home runs and had a fielding percentage of .974, placing them third in the UT record books in both categories. With 87 home runs last year as well, the Big Orange has 168 round-trippers over the last two seasons, which ranks as the second-most prolific two-year period in school history, behind only the 185 home runs hit in 1997 and 1998.
Individually, a number of Vols moved into the UT career annals as well, led by junior Cody Hawn who hit 14 home runs this season to move his two-year total to 36, placing him third all-time. He is tied with Sonny Cortez (1996, 1998) and is just two longballs behind Tennessee legend Todd Helton who hit 38 from 1993-95. The team leader in the home run category is actually Hawn's fellow classmate Blake Forsythe who blasted 15 four-baggers for the second consecutive season. His 30 home runs place him sixth all-time.
For the second straight day, the Orange and White received an outstanding performance from a member of its bullpen, only to see them suffer a tough-luck loss. It was Matt Ramsey on Friday night and senior Steve Crnkovich on Saturday. Playing in his last game at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, the Downer's Grove, Ill., native came on in relief to twirl 6.1 strong innings, allowing just three runs on seven hits. He walked only one batter and struck out three.
At the plate, Forsythe and junior P.J. Polk led the charge. Forsythe was the lone Vol to record multiple-hits in the contest, finishing 2-for-3 with a walk and his team-leading 15th home run of the season. Polk, meanwhile, knocked in three runs with a bases-loaded, bases-clearing triple to give him 51 RBIs on the season. With Hawn and Forsythe finishing the regular season with RBI totals of 61 and 57, respectively, it marked the first time since 2005 that Tennessee had three players drive in 50 or more runs in the same season.
The Big Orange jumped out to a quick lead on Saturday, scoring in the bottom of the first inning to go ahead 1-0. With one on and two outs, Forsythe singled to left to put runners on first and second. Junior Matt Duffy then smoked a 1-2 pitch right back at Alabama starting pitcher Adam Morgan. The ball actually ricocheted off of Morgan's leg out into left field to allow Josh Liles to race home from second.
The lead would be short-lived, however, as a leadoff walk in the top of the second by UT starter Drew Steckenrider came home to score on a one-out double down the left-field line by Jon Kelton to tie the game at 1-1.
Alabama would then take a commanding 6-1 lead by scoring give times in the following inning. With junior Bryan Morgado on the mound for the Big Orange, the Crimson Tide took full advantage of another leadoff walk as Josh Rutledge followed it with a home run to left center. After the next batter walked as well, back-to-back doubles by Clay Jones and Jake Smith brought two more runs home. Alabama's final tally of the stanza came on a wild pitch two batters later.
Tennessee refused to go away without putting up a fight, however, coming back to regain the lead just three innings later. Forsythe got one of the runs back in the bottom of the fourth when he belted the first pitch of the frame into the scoreboard in right-center for a leadoff, solo shot. He got things going once again in the bottom of the sixth when he was issued a four-pitch walk by Alabama reliever Jason Townsend. Duffy then drew a five-pitch free pass of his own to put two on and chase Townsend from the game.
With Jonathan Smart coming on in relief, Ramsey greeted him rudely, lacing a single to right to bring Forsythe in from second. With runners on first and second and nobody out, UT freshman Chris Fritts laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Smart tried to force Duffy out at third, but he slid in safely to load the bases for the Big Orange. Although sophomore Zach Osborne fouled out behind the plate for the first out, junior Khayyan Norfork watched four straight balls go by to earn an easy RBI. With Smart repeatedly pounding the outside corner, Polk simply took what was given to him as he followed Norfork's walk by smacking a triple to the corner in right to clear the bases and put the Vols up 7-6.
After a scoreless seventh, Alabama would go back ahead in the top of the eighth, this time for good. With one out, Andrew Miller and Cody Trotter notched consecutive singles before a walk to pinch hitter David Kindred loaded the bags. Crnkovich then hit Taylor Dugas with a 1-0 pitch to tie the game back up at 7-7. A sacrifice fly by Rutledge and a single by Cal Tinsley put two more runs on the scoreboard for Alabama and brought the game to what would be its final tally.
Prior to the game on Saturday, the Vols held a pre-game ceremony honoring the accomplishments of the six seniors on the squad. Stephen McCray, Steve Crnkovich, Cody Grisham, Matt Hamaker, Aaron Tullo and D.J. Leffler each played their final home game in Knoxville.
For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.