KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (utsports.com) -- The Tennessee baseball team fell in a nine-run hole and couldn't quite dig its way out, as it suffered its first loss of the 2011 campaign, 9-6, in the series finale against Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The Volunteers (2-1) staged a comeback in the second half of the contest, scoring six unanswered runs over the final four and a half innings, but missed out on a few too many opportunities, leaving 11 runners on base. Senior Josh Liles paced the offensive effort with three RBIs, while freshman Andrew Toles ripped a pair of doubles and scored two runs.
"We dug ourselves a hole early, but I was really happy with how we battled back," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "When you're down nine, you have to change your game plan a little bit. We had our chances, but we ran ourselves out of an inning and had a double play that hurt us. Just to get back in position, I felt like we had them on the edge a little bit. They didn't give us anything though. They didn't leave the door open for us. They are a good team, but I was proud of how we came back."
After a slow start, the Big Orange pitching staff got a pair of strong relief appearances out of freshman Carter Watson and sophomore Zack Godley who combined to throw four shutout innings after the Panthers (1-2) scored nine runs in the first four frames.
Defensively, UT posted another errorless performance and finished with just one error all weekend with that coming from a pitcher on a failed pickoff. All in all, it was a productive opening weekend for the Vols who claimed a series victory, hit .315 as a team, recorded their first shutout in almost four years and had a .992 fielding percentage.
"Our defense was outstanding," Raleigh said. "We were unbelievable this weekend. I think we made one error, which was a pitcher on a pick off. You don't see that very often. I thought we ran the bases well, although we made a mistake today. I thought we hit the ball well and had a good approach at the plate. I saw some good things from some of our pitchers, but we need to be a little bit better."
After a pair of losses to open the season, the Panthers wasted little time grabbing the momentum from UT on Sunday, scoring a run in the top of the first with three consecutive hits before recording an out. Although Peper was able to escape without any further damage thanks in large part to an inning-ending double play, UWM came right back two frames later and tacked on four more runs to go ahead 5-0.
With the Vol offense being held in check by Milwaukee starter Jordan Guth, the Panthers used a walk and a double to score once more in the fourth and a three-run home run down the line in left in the top of the fifth to jump out to a commanding 9-0 advantage.
After that point, however, Tennessee turned the tables a little and dominated the game down the stretch, scoring six unanswered runs, starting with four in the bottom of the fifth. Junior Chris Pierce, making his first start in a UT uniform, opened the stanza by getting hit by a pitch and moving to second on a balk. Classmate Zach Osborne then promptly punched an RBI single to right to get the Big Orange on the scoreboard.
That seemed to loosen the Vols up a bit and Toles followed with a double to left-center. Norfork then walked to load the bases for Liles who brought another run home with a run-scoring groundout to third. Senior Matt Duffy finished off the scoring that inning with a two-RBI double to the gap in right-center that brought Norfork and Toles around to score. UT would load the bases later that inning after a pair of hit batters, but a 1-2-3 double play off the bat of sophomore Chris Fritts would halt the threat.
After scoreless stanzas in the sixth and seventh, Tennessee would load the bases once again in the bottom of the eighth with walks to junior Davis Morgan and Norfork, sandwiched around Toles' second double of the day. Liles would add two more RBIs to his total for the game with a single to left, but a base-running miscue erased Norfork from the basepaths and put two outs on the scoreboard. Milwaukee closer Cuyler Franzke would come in to get Duffy to bounce into a fielder's choice before shutting the door in the ninth to earn the save.
Tennessee will be back in action on Friday, Feb. 25, when it opens a three-game set against Canisius at 3 p.m. at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The two squads will also play at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.
For the most up-to-date information on Tennessee baseball, visit www.UTSports.com/baseball and follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.