KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee baseball team got its fill of runs on Fat Tuesday as it completed a seven-inning, run-rule victory over the University of New Orleans, 14-0, moments before a downpour of rain postponed the second game of the scheduled doubleheader. Game two will be pushed back to its original time of 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
“Obviously, we did some good things offensively, we didn’t make an error, but Rob (Catapano) was the bright spot,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “We’re going to need Rob. Rob could be our best pitcher if he could stay healthy. I think, pound-for-pound, he could be the best pitcher on our staff. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy but he can really do it. The other bright spot was Matt Ramsey. Just to get him on the mound and see him out there was such a sigh of relief and then Nick Williams did some good things too.
“It’s good to have a game like this where guys can get some work in,” Raleigh said. “I think Josh Liles swung the bat better today. We’ve worked hard with him a lot this week. He’s been struggling so that was good to see. Ethan Bennett got his first college hit. (There were) a lot of positives today. Fortunately we were able to get the game in, and fortunately we were able to cover the field in time. Since (New Orleans) is on spring break, we’ll just try again tomorrow.”
It looked like a Farragut High School alumni game on the mound on Tuesday as three former Admirals combined on a five-hit shutout, Tennessee’s third of the season. Senior southpaw Rob Catapano collected his first win of the season with four scoreless innings of work, striking out a UT career-high five batters.
Freshman Nick Williams added two frames of two-hit ball before junior Matt Ramsey made his 2011 pitching debut by striking out two in a perfect seventh inning. To top it off, all three pitchers were throwing to former Farragut star and UT freshman Ethan Bennett who started at catcher for the second straight game.
Eight different Volunteers collected hits in the contest with four picking up at least two. Sophomore Chris Fritts led the way with three, finishing just a triple away from the cycle. That tied his career high for hits, while he set a personal best with four RBIs, two of which came on his first home run of the season. Junior Chris Pierce also launched his first longball, a pinch-hit three-run shot that capped off a nine-run fifth inning.
Tennessee got the scoring started in the bottom of the second when Fritts crushed a first-pitch fastball the opposite direction off of the scoreboard in right-center to plate senior Josh Liles after he opened the stanza with a single.
“(Chris Fritts) gave us a lift today,” Raleigh said. “Hitting that home run gave us a little bit of room. After that, we settled in.”
Following a scoreless third inning, the Vols scratched three more tallies on the scoreboard in the fourth. With one out, Fritts singled back up the middle before junior Zach Osborne and senior Khayyan Norfork were both hit by inside curveballs to load the bases. Freshman Andrew Toles made it 3-0 in favor of the Orange and White with a groundball to short that removed Norfork from the basepaths. Toles promptly stole second before a single to center by senior Matt Duffy brought him and Osborne home for a 5-0 lead.
The Orange and White followed with a memorable effort in the fifth inning, scoring nine runs before recording an out. After a leadoff walk to Liles, a bunt single by junior Davis Morgan and another free pass to Bennett, the Vols tallied six consecutive hits, capped off by a three-run, pinch-hit home run by Pierce, to complete a clean rotation through the lineup. Bennett would later get a two-out single for his first collegiate hit.
“I finally made a good coaching move this year,” Raleigh said. “I just wanted to get (Pierce) in there and it worked out.”
From there, the Big Orange let its pitching staff do the work as Williams and Ramsey combined to retire six of the final seven batters of the game.
With the victory, Tennessee improves to 8-2 on the season, while New Orleans falls to 1-10. Weather permitting, the two teams will return to the diamond at 4 p.m. on Wednesday for the second and final game of the mid-week series. Junior southpaw T.J. Thornton will make his Volunteer debut as the team’s starting pitcher, while freshman righthander Scott Stonestreet (0-0, 7.88) will get the ball for the Privateers.
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