HOUSTON – Whispers amidst the nearly 7,500 college baseball fans on hand Friday at Minute Maid Park billed it as the “Battle of the UTs.” And when the dust settled not long before midnight, the cheers of the vastly outnumbered Volunteers fans made it clear that the real UT resides not in the Lone Star State, but on good ole’ Rocky Top.
Tennessee just took its show on the road, that’s all.
Vols under first-year head coach Todd Raleigh shocked the nation’s third-ranked team by posting a come-from-behind 5-4 win over Texas, marking the Longhorns’ (5-1) first loss of the young season. The Big Orange improved to 4-1 overall.
"We've worked hard to get in playing shape, and today we played with some heart,” Raleigh said. “This is a great victory for us. I thought the players were really loose coming into this game. I told (athletic director) Mike Hamilton we were loose. I thought our players had a business-like approach."
Vols starting pitcher Steve Crnkovich notched his second win in as many starts by working 6 1/3 business-like innings in which he allowed three runs on eight hits with one walk and three strikeouts.
Tennessee relievers Joey Rosas, Aaron Everett and Jeff Lockwood all came up with clutch appearances out of the bullpen, combining to throw 2 2/3 innings of two-hit, one-run ball. Lockwood’s perfect ninth inning gave him his second save of the year and the 10th of his career.
Offensively, senior Andy Simunic and freshman Kentrail Davis each delivered a pair of hits—accounting for half of Tennessee’s total on the day. Davis had a game-high two RBI, while P.J. Polk and junior Cody Brown also logged one RBI apiece.
Seven of the Longhorns’ 10 hits were for extra bases, but that wasn’t enough to swing the first-ever meeting between the two programs in their favor. Four Texas errors led to a pair of unearned runs for the Vols.
Texas All-America outfielder Kyle Russell dealt the first blow Friday with an RBI double deep in the left-field corner in the bottom of the first inning. Travis Tucker scored on the play after being hit by a pitch to lead off the frame. It was the first earned run allowed by Crnkovich on the year.
The Longhorns put their leadoff man on base again in the second, and once again they capitalized. Russell Moldenhauer used an RBI single to plate Brandon Belt, who previously advanced to third base on a wild pitch following his leadoff double.
Tennessee put itself on the scoreboard in the top of the third to trim its deficit in half, 2-1. Freshman catcher Blake Forsythe drew a walk to lead off the inning, and he then took second on a well-laid sacrifice bunt by fellow freshman Polk. And it was yet another true freshman—centerfielder Davis—who drove in the Vols’ opening run with a line-drive basehit to centerfield.
The Big Orange threatened to take the lead with two men on base later in the top of the third when first baseman Yan Gomes crushed a ball to deep right field. Russell, however, reached over the top of the outfield wall to end the inning and preserve the Longhorns’ one-run lead.
Texas starting pitcher Austin Wood was lifted after Tennessee’s first two batter’s reached base in the top of the seventh. The left-hander gave way to Marcus Tackett and ended up taking the loss to fall to 1-1 on the year.
Polk greeted Tackett with a sacrifice bunt—Polk’s second of the game—that moved Vols shortstop Danny Lima and Forsythe into scoring position. Texas then made another call to its bullpen, summoning left-hander Kyle Walker. Walker promptly walked Simunic, loading the bases for Davis with one out.
Davis drew a five-pitch, RBI walk to tie the game at 2-2. An RBI basehit by Brown and two Texas errors later in the seventh led to the Vols suddenly holding a 4-2 lead entering the bottom of the frame.
After the Longhorns got a run back in the bottom of the seventh, Simunic keyed a crucial double play that preserved the Vols’ one-run advantage. Texas had two runners in scoring position when preseason All-America outfielder Jordan Danks sent a hard-hit liner over the middle of the Tennessee infield. Simunic charged to his right to make the catch and then made a quick throw to shortstop Danny Lima at second base to double-up David Hernandez and end the threat.
With the momentum swung back in Tennessee’s favor, Forsythe roped a two-out single in the top of the eighth. Polk then sent an RBI triple over Russell’s head in right field to make the score 5-3 in favor of the Vols.
But the back-and-forth battle continued into the bottom of the eighth, as the Longhorns received consecutive extra-base hits from Preston Clark and Brandon Belt. Belt’s RBI triple again trimmed the Tennessee lead to a single run, and it was then that the Vols turned to junior right-hander Aaron Everett to silence the vocal Longhorns contingent (announced attendance Friday was 7,479).
Everett started with a strikeout of pinch-hitter Kevin Keyes, but Texas catcher Cameron Rupp then drew a base on balls to put runners on the corners with two outs. Hernandez then hit a bouncing shot between third base and the mound that a charging Brown made easy work of to end the inning.
Lockwood spelled Everett for the bottom of the ninth, and the sophomore from Knoxville, Tenn., retired the Longhorns Nos. 1, 2 and 3 hitters in order to seal the hard-earned victory. With the save, Lockwood moved into a tie for third place on Tennessee’s all-time list with 10.
Texas head coach Augie Garrido was ejected from the game following an argument with the umpiring crew in the top of the seventh inning.
Tennessee returns to action at Minute Maid Park Saturday when it faces Texas Tech (2-4) at 3:30 p.m. CT. It will be the first-ever meeting between the two programs. The Red Raiders lost to Houston in Friday’s mid-day game after Rice defeated Oklahoma in the tournament opener.
Tennessee’s starting pitcher for Saturday’s game will be sophomore left-hander Nick Hernandez (0-0, 1.23 ERA). Sophomore right-hander Nate Karns (0-0, 6.75 ERA) will take the mound for Texas Tech.