March 14, 2008
KNOXVILLE – The Tennessee baseball team carried the fight to LSU and kept it there for nine innings Friday, holding on for a 6-5 win in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams at Robert M. Lindsay Field at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Steve Crnkovich’s sparkling effort on the mound helped the Volunteers improve to 10-4 (1-0 SEC) with their sixth straight victory. The Tigers dropped to 11-4 (0-1 SEC) with the loss.
Crnkovich ran his record to a perfect 4-0 by holding the Tigers to four runs on six hits with one walk and four strikeouts. Vols junior Aaron Everett pitched the final 2/3 inning to record his second save of the season. Tennessee totaled seven hits on the night, while LSU?posted eight.
“We played real well today,” UT head coach Todd Raleigh said. “Steve was unbelievable on the mound. (LSU has) a great club. They’re really physical and not easy to pitch to, but Steve did a good job.
“We didn’t get a lot of hits, but we made the most of them.”
The series continues Saturday at 1 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised regionally on SportSouth. Left-hander Bryan Morgado (2-1, 0.86 ERA) will start on the mound for Tennessee, while left-hander Ryan Verdugo (3-0, 2.40 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for LSU.
LSU starting pitcher Jared Bradford retired the Vols in order in the bottom of the first inning Friday, but the Big Orange managed to make some things happen in the second. Tennessee designated hitter Jeff Lockwood opened the weekend’s scoring with an RBI basehit that eluded diving LSU second baseman Ryan Schimpf. Vols catcher Yan Gomes scored on the play after leading off the frame with a double to the right-center gap.
Tennessee extended its lead to 2-0 in the bottom of the third when second baseman Andy Simunic belted a solo home run that cleared the left-field wall just inside the foul pole. It was the senior’s first homer of the season and the second of his career.
Simunic’s dinger also was the first longball surrendered by Bradford on the year. In fact, Bradford entered the game having allowed just one extra-base hit through 18 2/3 innings. And in just three innings Friday, UT had managed two doubles and a home run.
The Tigers didn’t record their first hit until the top of the fifth inning, but it was worth the wait for LSU. Tigers first baseman Matt Clark led off the frame with a solo bomb to right, trimming UT’s lead to one run. Crnkovich had retired each of LSU’s first 12 batters to that point.
Tennessee authored an impressive two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth after Bradford struck out the first two batters of the frame. Vols shortstop Cody Grisham—UT’s No. 9 hitter—took a Bradford pitch in the leg and then stole second and third base. Simunic drew a walk to put runners on the corners for freshman centerfielder Kentrail Davis.
Davis entered the weekend with a team-leading .474 batting average that ranked third in the SEC. And he quickly proved those pre-conference numbers were no fluke by delivering a clutch, bases-clearing triple to the warning track in dead-centerfield. Junior third baseman Cody Brown then snuck an RBI single through the left side of the Tigers infield, scoring Davis and pushing the Vols lead to four runs, 5-1.
“With two outs, Cody Grisham had an unbelievable at-bat,” Raleigh said. “He fouled about four pitches off, got hit by a pitch, stole second and third … those are things we need to do. That’s exactly the kind of team we need to be.”
Bradford was chased from the game after issuing back-to-back walks to lead off the bottom of the sixth. Austin Ross took the mound after the Vols touched Bradford for six runs on six hits with three walks and nine strikeouts. Bradford took the loss to fall to 3-1 on the year.
UT senior Daniel Beasley greeted Ross with a pinch-hit sacrifice bunt that moved both runners into scoring position, and Gomes then scored from third on an RBI groundout by first baseman Tanner Moore. That run brought the score to 6-1 in favor of the Vols and would prove to be crucial in the end.
LSU used a pair of extra-base hits to plate one run in the seventh. Tigers outfielder Blake Dean scored on a groundout by Clark to make it a four-run game. Crnkovich ended the frame by inducing his sixth infield pop-up of the night. And back-to-back RBI hits by Schimpf and Derek Helenihi in the eighth brought the score to 6-4.
Following Helenihi’s RBI single, Crnkovich gave way to Lockwood. A two-man LSU mental blunder then cost the Tigers. When Lockwood threw ball three to Dean, Dean thought it was ball four and headed to first base after dropping his bat. Helenihi apparently forgot the count as well and started on his way toward second. Gomes then threw down to Grisham at short, who threw to Moore at first for the putout. With two outs, Dean then harmlessly grounded out to Moore to end the inning.
The Tigers threatened in the ninth, putting runners on the corners with one out. Raleigh then summoned Everett out of the bullpen. Everett got D.J. LaMahieu to strike out, but Leon Landry then came through with an RBI single. LSU third baseman Michael Hollander had an opportunity to put the Tigers on top, but Everett induced a bouncing fielder’s choice that Grisham handled with ease for the game-ending putout at second.