Diamond Vols cruise past Bradley, 7-3

KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- The Tennessee bullpen continued its early season dominance, freshman Andrew Toles knocked in two runs and scored two more and senior Khayyan Norfork reached base in all five of his plate appearances as the Volunteers (6-1) won their fourth straight game, downing Bradley (4-4), 7-3, on Friday evening at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

"We pitched pretty well and played really good defense. We made an error tonight but other than that, it was good. We pulled away late, that seems to be our formula," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "I thought Drew Steckenrider did a good job in his first start. Levi Dean continues to do what he does and Zack Godley continues to do what he does on the mound so I was pleased there.

"Offensively, we could've had five home runs tonight. It was incredible with the wind blowing. Of course, Charley's (Thurber) went foul but the rest of them, any other day they are out. They're not just weak fly balls. Those balls were smoked. I was pleased today. Their pitcher did a good job. He had a one-something ERA and he's good. Overall, I'm pleased with the way we played."

On the mound, junior Levi Dean earned the second victory of his UT career, twirling four shutout frames in relief of sophomore starter Drew Steckenrider who allowed three runs on eight hits and struck out four over the first four innings of the game. Sophomore Zack Godley closed out the contest with a perfect ninth inning.

Dean is yet to allow a run in 10.2 innings of action in a Tennessee uniform. The Vol bullpen as a whole has not given up an earned run in its last 24.0 frames of work, dating back to the fifth inning of its game against Milwaukee on Feb. 20. The UT bullpen ERA through the first seven games of the season sits at a minscule 1.82.

UT's leadoff hitter, Norfork seemed to be on the bases all night, walking three times, reaching on an error and getting a single to ensure that he has now hit safely in all seven games this season. Once he got on base he wasn't done though, collecting a career-high three stolen bases to improve his season total to a team-best eight.

"To me, he was the difference in the game," Raleigh said. "He gets the shirt which goes to whoever has the best game. He set the tone and he just battled. He created more fastballs for those guys. He probably created that balk in the eighth inning to get us that extra run. He just created a lot of havoc and that's just what you need in a leadoff guy. He did a phenomenal job tonight. I thought he was the difference."

Hitting before him in the nine-hole was the speedy Toles. The freshman centefielder was 2-for-4 at the plate with a two-RBI single and a stand-up triple off of the wall in right-center. He also scored twice in the contest.

"(The combination of Norfork and Toles in the lineup) is not good for the other team," Raleigh said. "Those two guys can really, really run. They can make some things happen. I love that combination. They're very, very deadly."

Rounding out the Orange and White's offensive effort, sophomore Chris Fritts tallied a pair of hits, while seniors Josh Liles and Matt Duffy and junior Zach Osborne each picked up an RBI.

The Big Orange struck the first blow in the contest, using three consecutive two-out singles by Fritts, junior Charley Thurber and Osborne to take a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Bradley answered right back though, grabbing a three-run advantage with a tally in the third and two more in the fourth.

The Vols were undeterred, however, putting up a four-spot in their half of the fourth to take a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way. Junior Matt Ramsey got the inning started with a double down the right field line, followed by an infield single by Fritts. A walk to Thurber loaded the bases and Toles brought two runners home just moments later with a one-out single to right. The throw from the right-fielder sailed over the catcher's head on the play, allowing the runners to both move into scoring position.

Norfork picked up an RBI on the next play with a groundball to short that the shortstop couldn't handle. After a stolen base and a walk, Duffy made it 5-3 Tennessee with a run-scoring fielder's choice.

Following three scoreless stanzas by both teams, the Orange and White tacked on two more insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth. After ending the top-half of the frame by gunning down a runner trying to advance to third on a fly ball to right, Thurber nearly recorded his second home run of the season with a mammoth shot that hooked just foul down the right-field line.

Thurber would eventually be retired, but Toles ripped a stand-up triple off the wall in right-center two batters later to start a two-out rally. Norfork would follow with a walk and a balk by Bradley's Danny Gifford would give the Vols a run. Liles then brought Norfork home from second with a single to center.

Tennessee will return to the diamond at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday against Indiana, which took out Morehead State, 7-6, in 13 innings in the first game of the Tennessee Baseball Classic on Friday. The Vols will close out the weekend with a 4 p.m. showdown against the Eagles on Sunday.

For the most up-to-date information on Tennessee baseball, visit www.UTSports.com/baseball and follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.

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