KNOXVILLE, Tenn. --(utsports.com) -- Freshman Ethan Bennett smashed his first career home run and junior Levi Dean improved to 3-0 on the mound as the Tennessee baseball team (12-2) clinched a series victory in its four-game set against Manhattan (2-8) with a seven-inning, 3-2, triumph in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“It was a lot closer than I thought it should have been,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “We had the bases loaded twice, once with no outs and scored one, then with one out and we didn’t score. We had a lot of chances, but didn’t capitalize. Their pitcher was good, as good as we’ve seen this year. He really kept us off balance. He could throw any pitch at anytime, so he was tough to square up today. He made one mistake to Ethan Bennett, and Ethan hit it. I thought that was a big play in our game. We battled and our pitching was good enough to hold on.”
Bennett, who finished 3-for-7 with four RBIs over the course of Saturday’s doubleheader, launched a two-run shot to left in the second inning to give the Vols the lead after they had fallen behind early. As a standout prepster at Farragut High School in Knoxville, Bennett hit a Tennessee state record 27 home runs as a senior last year.
“(Ethan) has done a good job,” Raleigh said. “We knew he was going to be a good hitter, but he’s doing a great job catching too. Really, he’s improved that part of his game more than anything. He’s really worked hard and is going to be a great player for us. That was a big hit he got for us today.”
Senior Josh Liles added two hits in the contest as well, to give him five singles on the day. With his effort in the two games on Saturday, Liles was able to raise his batting average 76 points to .271 on the year. Junior Davis Morgan also had a single in his one official at-bat to extend his hitting streak to eight games, while fellow classmate Zach Osborne’s bases loaded walk in the fourth proved to be the difference in the game.
Dean picked up his third win of the year in his first start in a Tennessee uniform. Sporting a classic look with stirrup socks and high-cuffed pants, the Centralia, Wash., native scattered three hits over four innings of work, allowing two runs, only one of which was earned. It was the first earned run he has allowed as a Vol, snapping a scoreless streak of 10.1 innings to start his UT career. Dean also struck out two and walked one.
After a slow start that included allowing a home run on the first pitch of the game and walking the second batter, Dean bounced back to retire 10 consecutive hitters until the Jaspers scored an unearned run in the fourth.
The Vols, who had chances to break the game open with bases loaded situations in both the fourth and fifth innings, were fortunate to get another fantastic outing out of their bullpen as sophomore Zack Godley was nearly perfect in his two shutout innings on the bump, striking out four, while walking one and yielding one hit.
Junior Matt Ramsey then came on to close out the contest in the seventh, collecting the seventh save of his career but first this season with a perfect frame. He recorded a groundout, a strikeout and a weak pop-up to finish off the contest. Ramsey is now tied with Joey Andrews and Danny Wiltz for seventh all-time in UT history in career saves.
The Jaspers wasted little time grabbing their first lead of the weekend as Mark Onorati took the very first offering of the game and parked it over the wall in left to give his team a quick 1-0 lead. After walking the next batter, a visit from UT pitching coach Jason Beverlin helped settle him down and he proceeded to retire the next 10 batters he faced.
With Dean starting to find his groove, the Big Orange answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the second on Bennett’s longball. Manhattan brought the game back to a deadlock in the fourth, however, when it took advantage of a rare defensive miscue by Tennessee to plate an unearned run on a single by Nick Camastro. Dean left two runners stranded in scoring position though as he got Mikey Miranda swinging to end the threat.
The Vols had a chance to really do some damage in the bottom of the stanza, but had to settle for simply regaining the lead. After an infield single and a throwing error put the UT leadoff hitter, Liles, in scoring position, Morgan laid down a sac bunt attempt. The Manhattan pitcher threw to third to try to get Liles, but he was able to slide in safely under the tag. Ramsey was hit by a pitch just moments later to load the bases with nobody out.
The next two hitters both flew out, but neither was deep enough to bring Liles in from third. Fortunately, junior Zach Osborne was able to salvage at least one run as he drew a two-out, bases-loaded walk to give the Orange and White a 3-2 lead.
Just one inning later, the Vols found themselves in a bases loaded situation once again, this time with one out on the board. Ramsey smoked a groundball to the hot corner, but Manhattan third baseman Chad Salem made a backhanded stab, stepped on third and fired to first for an inning-ending double play.
The one-run lead proved just enough though as the Tennessee bullpen was able to button down the victory with Godley and Ramsey shutting the Jaspers down over the final three frames.
The Vols will go for the series sweep at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Redshirt freshman Jon Reed (1-0, 5.40) will get the starting assignment for UT, while right-hander Mike Giordano (0-0, 4.05) will make the start for Manhattan. Live audio from The Sports Animal (FM 99.1/99.3) will be available online at www.UTSports.com/baseball with John Wilkerson, Kyle Hixson and Roger Hoover on the call. For the most up-to-date information on Tennessee baseball, make sure to follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.
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