TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (utsports.com) -- Playing in its second straight ESPNU Thursday Night SEC Game of the Week, the Tennessee baseball team scored a run in the first inning, but Alabama responded with seven unanswered over the next six frames en route to a 8-2 victory at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
“We came out and scored a run in the first inning tonight, which is a good sign,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “We just gave up too many runs. Once you get behind, it’s hard to hit like that. I thought we hit the ball hard tonight. It was the best we’ve hit it in a while, so I was pleased with that. We just have to get ready to go, gear it up tomorrow and try to win the series the next two days.”
Junior Charley Thurber reached base three times, going 2-for-3 with two singles and a walk at the plate for the Vols. Senior Tyler Horne also had a pair of singles, while fellow classmate Khayyan Norfork added a walk, a stolen base, a run and an RBI on a sacrifice fly. The stolen base was his SEC-leading 22nd of the season.
Senior southpaw Rob Catapano suffered the loss to fall to 2-3 on the year. He yielded five runs on six hits in 2.1 innings of work. Sophomore Zack Godley collected UT’s only two strikeouts of the day as he allowed just one unearned run in 2.2 frames. Freshman Dalton Saberhagen made his second career SEC appearance, tossing a scoreless eighth.
Tennessee got the scoring started in the top of the first, using a leadoff walk by Norfork, a sac bunt by freshman Andrew Toles, a stolen base and an RBI groundout by Matt Duffy to put the first tally on the scoreboard without the benefit of even a single hit.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Alabama immediately countered with three two-out runs in the bottom of the first. Catapano wasted little time two of the first three hitters on just 11 pitches, but the Tide was able to load the bases with a single and a hit batter. Back-to-back singles by Andrew Miller and Brett Booth then gave their team a lead it would not relinquish.
The Red Elephants scored twice more in the third when a two-out fly ball to left-center was lost in the lights and fell for a two-RBI double by Hunter Gregory. Alabama then had one runner cross home in both the fifth and sixth innings to put its lead at 7-1.
Tennessee got back on the scoreboard in the top of the seventh. Senior Josh Liles opened the stanza with a hard-hit single to right before sophomore Chris Fritts followed by dropping a double down the left-field line. A sacrifice fly by Norfork brought the Big Orange back within five at 7-2.
The Crimson Tide got the run right back though thanks to a bases-loaded walk in the home half of the inning. The Vols escaped further damage, however, as they turned their second double play of the day to leave two runners stranded.
The Orange and White had the beginnings of a late rally going when Duffy opened the eighth with a leadoff walk, but Alabama called upon its closer, Jonathan Smart and he proceeded to sit down all six UT hitters he faced to close out the contest.
The two teams will battle it out again at 7:30 p.m. on Friday before the series finale takes place at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Junior Steven Gruver (3-4, 2.93) will take the mound for UT tomorrow, while Alabama will counter with Adam Morgan (4-2, 4.34). For the most up-to-date information on Tennessee baseball, visit www.UTSports.com/baseball and be sure to follow @Vol_Baseball on Twitter.
Tennessee dropped to 19-15 overall and 2-11 in SEC play with its ninth straight loss…UT is now 68-29 all-time against Alabama, including a 9-29 record in Tuscaloosa…The Vols got the leadoff hitter on base four times, with two of those runners scoring…The Big Orange was 2-for-15 with runners on base, while Alabama was 7-for-19 in those situations…The Tennessee pitching staff struck out just two hitters, tying its season low (vs. South Carolina – 4/7)…The Vols picked up their 68th stolen base…They rank second in the SEC in that category, one behind Arkansas…The Crimson Tide scored five runs with two outs…Official game time was two hours, 39 minutes.
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