LEXINGTON, Ky. (utsports.com) -- The Tennessee baseball team jumped ahead by three runs in the early goings, but Kentucky scored five unanswered over the final four innings to snap the Volunteers’ nine-game winning streak with a 5-3 triumph in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams on Friday night at Cliff Hagen Stadium in Lexington.
“We’re a good club, we just made a mistake tonight and it cost us,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “We did a good job of battling and getting some runs off of (Alex Meyer) and put ourselves in a position to win. It just didn’t happen tonight. We did exactly what we wanted; we just couldn’t break it open.”
In a match-up between two of the top starting pitchers in the conference, it came down to a battle of the bullpens. Unfortunately for fans of the Orange and White, a two-run home run by UK’s Braden Kapteyn in the seventh proved to be the difference as he ended the UT bullpen’s 17.2 inning scoreless streak with one swing of the bat.
Junior southpaw Steven Gruver turned in another solid start for the Vols, striking out seven without walking a batter in 6.1 innings of work. He yielded four runs on seven hits and three hit batters, however, to suffer his first loss of the season.
The longball by Kapteyn off of sophomore Zack Godley marked the first run he has allowed in a Tennessee uniform since transferring from Spartanburg Methodist. Freshman Nick Williams pitched a perfect eighth for UT, striking out two, including his older brother Michael on four pitches in the first ever collegiate meeting between the two siblings.
Senior Josh Liles knocked in all three Tennessee runs, plating two with an RBI single and another on a groundout. Fellow classmate Matt Duffy was the only Vol with multiple hits on Friday, while another senior, Khayyan Norfork, scored two runs, stole his SEC-leading 16th base and extended his hitting streak to nine games with a stand-up double to lead off the contest.
Kentucky flamethrower Alex Meyer earned the win, his third of the year, after allowing three runs on seven hits in seven innings. Following his home run, Kapteyn came on to claim his first save of the year with three punchouts over the final two innings.
The Vols struck the first blow of the evening, putting up a pair of runs in the top of the third. With one down, Norfork reached for the second time in the game when a groundball snuck under the second baseman’s glove. Freshman Andrew Toles followed with a single to left before a walk to Duffy loaded the bases. Liles then came through with a base knock through the right side of the infield to bring two runners home and give the Vols the early lead.
Two innings later, Tennessee tacked on another run when Liles beat out the throw to first on a double-play attempt to allow Norfork to race in from third and give UT a 3-0 lead. The Wildcats, however, would answer with three runs of their own in the bottom of the frame to knot things up again.
With one out on the board, Taylor Black hit a skyscraping pop-up towards second base. A trio of Vols lost the ball in the lights though and it fell safely for an infield single. After an error on a failed pick-off attempt and a hit batter, Kapteyn got UK on the scoreboard with an RBI single. Gruver was able to strike out the next batter, but a double steal on the play resulted in another UK run before a single by Taylor McCarthy tied the game up.
The Vols had baserunners in each of the next two innings but couldn’t capitalize before Kapteyn’s home run and two innings on the mound handed them their first loss since March 5.
With the loss, Tennessee falls to 15-3 on the season while Kentucky improves to 11-7. UT will look to get back on track in the second game of the three-game set at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Orange and White and the Wildcats will then close things out with another 1 p.m. showdown on Sunday. 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 saw its longest winning streak since 2005 come to an end at nine games…Friday’s contest marked UT’s first outside of the state of Tennessee this season…The Vols had just two baserunners over the final four innings…Three Tennessee pitchers combined for 10 strikeouts and did not walk a batter for the third time this season…The Big Orange pitching staff now has double-digit strikeout totals in six games this year…The run allowed by the UT bullpen in the seventh inning was its first in 17.2 frames of work...The Orange and White had at least one baserunner in each of the first seven innings…Official game time was two hours, 47 minutes…Attendance at Cliff Hagen Stadium was 1,727.
Josh Liles tied his season high with three RBIs and extended his hitting streak to nine games, which is one off his career high…Khayyan Norfork pushed his hitting streak to nine games as well with a stand-up double to lead off the game…He has now hit safely in 17 of the team’s 18 games this year…Norfork and Matt Duffy have reached base in all 18 games in 2011…Norfork also picked up his SEC-leading 16th stolen base…Nick Williams pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth for the Vols, including striking out his older brother, Michael, on just four pitches for the second out…Davis Morgan, Ethan Bennett and Zach Osborne saw their hitting streaks come to an end at nine, seven and four games, respectively…Steven Gruver suffered his first loss of the season, allowing a season-high four earned runs…He struck seven and did not walk a batter…His three hit batters were a career-high…Zack Godley allowed his first earned run in a Tennessee uniform on a home run by Braden Kapteyn