KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (utsports.com) -- Playing in front of the largest home crowd since 2007 and a national television audience, Tennessee got a four-hit effort from junior Zach Osborne, but it wasn’t quite enough as it dropped a 4-0 decision to defending national champion and third-ranked South Carolina in the inaugural ESPNU Thursday Night SEC Game of the Week.
“I don’t know what to say other than we played hard as we have been,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “I’ve been around a long time and I’ve never seen, you know, not getting anything to go our way. It’s just got to turn for us, that’s all I can say. We played a pretty good game. We played hard, made a couple of baserunning mistakes that can’t happen, but they made some great plays.”
With 3,435 on hand to witness Thursday’s contest, the Vols were playing in front of their largest home crowd in the Raleigh-era. The last time that many fans came through the turnstiles at Lindsey Nelson Stadium was against Arkansas on March 30, 2007.
Of Osborne’s four singles, three led off an inning and the other came with just one out. He was able to advance to second just once, however, which was indicative of UT’s night at the plate as the Vols were 0-for-12 with runners on base. The Big Orange hit the ball hard on multiple occasions in those situations, but an outstanding Gamecock defense, which turned three double plays in the game, stymied the Vols every time.
Tennessee senior Rob Catapano (2-2) suffered the loss, despite pitching 5.2 solid innings in which he allowed just three runs on seven hits and three walks. South Carolina right-hander Michael Roth (7-1) picked up his SEC-leading seventh win of the season, scattering six hits and striking out four over 7.2 frames. Matt Price picked up the save for the Gamecocks after allowing one hit over the final 1.1 innings.
“(Catapano) didn’t pitch good, but he battled,” Raleigh said. “His first-pitch strike percentage wasn’t good, his stuff wasn’t great, but if you can do what he did when you aren’t on top of your game, you’re doing pretty good. For as far as what he normally does, it wasn’t very good, but he battled unbelievably hard tonight and he kept us in the game, so overall, I’m very pleased. He made big pitches when he had to tonight and did a great job.”
Following three scoreless frames by both squads, South Carolina cracked the scoreboard first with a pair of runs in the fourth. Gamecock sparkplug Jackie Bradley, Jr., opened the stanza with a leadoff single before coming home to score just moments later when Christian Walker ripped a 3-2 pitch just inside the third-base for a double.
After a flyout to center and a walk, Walker crossed the plate on a groundout to first. It almost didn’t count though, as UT senior first baseman Josh Liles snagged the chopper and fired to second to try to start an inning-ending double play. The relay back to first was just late, however, and the Gamecocks took a 2-0 lead.
The Vols had an opportunity to get at least one of the runs back in the home half of the fifth as senior DH Tyler Horne opened the inning with a double down the right-field line. Facing one of the toughest pitchers in the nation against left-handed hitters, junior Charley Thurber put a great swing on a 2-2 pitch, lining it sharply into left-center for what appeared to be UT’s second consecutive double. South Carolina left fielder Evan Marzilli, who had only entered the game as a defensive replacement one inning before, made a highlight-reel diving catch in the gap and doubled up Horne at second to effectively halt the threat in its tracks.
Marzilli followed his tremendous defensive play with a solo home run to right in the top of the sixth to put the Gamecocks ahead 3-0. SC actually loaded the bases that inning to force Catapano out of the game, but UT sophomore reliever Nick Blount kept the damage to just the one run by getting Peter Mooney to hit a routine groundball to second for the final out.
After a 1-2-3 inning from Roth, South Carolina got right back at it as Bradley opened up the seventh with his second double of the day. A groundout to second moved him to third before Adrian Morales came through with an RBI single to put the tally on the scoreboard at 4-0.
The Volunteer bullpen held SC in check the rest of the way, but the UT offense never caught the break it needed to get back in the game. It did have a couple of prime opportunities, however. In the bottom of the eighth, Thurber punched a leadoff double down the left-field line and sophomore Chris Fritts followed with a walk to put two runners on and nobody out for the Vols. After a sac bunt by junior Matt Ramsey moved both of them into scoring position, Roth was able to get out of the jam by inducing a weak groundout back to the mound and striking out the next hitter.
Down to its final three outs, Tennessee continued to battle, putting runners on first and second with just one out after Osborne’s fourth single of the day, a groundout and a walk to senior Matt Duffy. The game came to a sudden end just seconds later though as Horne ripped a sharp line drive directly to the SC first baseman who stepped on the bag to double up Duffy for the final out.
The two teams will battle it out again at 6 p.m. on Friday evening before closing out the three-game series with a noon showdown on Saturday, which will be televised live on SportSouth with Andy Demetra and Rusty Ensor on the call.
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The contest was the inaugural ESPNU Thursday Night SEC Game of the Week…The attendance of 3,435 was UT’s highest in the Todd Raleigh-era and highest since 3,987 passed through the gates for the March 30, 2007 contest against Arkansas…The Vols are now 1-2 all-time on ESPNU and 8-8 on the ESPN family of networks…UT is now 33-44 all-time against South Carolina, including an 18-14 mark in Knoxville…The Big Orange was shut out for the third time this season…Tennessee was 0-for-12 with runners on base…The Vols played their 12th errorless game of the year and sixth in 10 SEC games…The Orange and White was held without a stolen base for the 10th time this season…The two strikeouts by the UT pitching staff were a season low…Official game time was two hours, 42 minutes.
Zach Osborne posted the team’s fourth four-hit performance of the season with four singles in four at-bats…The four hits were a career-high for the junior…He is now 8-for-18 (.444) over his last four games…Rob Catapano suffered his second loss of the season despite allowing just three runs over 5.2 innings…Tyler Horne had a pair of hits, including a double, for his fifth multi-hit game of the season…Chris Fritts gunned a runner down at the plate from left field to end the top of the fifth…It was his fifth outfield assist of the season and the team’s 16th…Matt Ramsey threw Adrian Morales out trying to steal second to end the top of the seventh…He has now thrown out 13 of 29 potential base stealers (44.8%).
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