KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee baseball team shook up its lineup on Wednesday and got exactly the result it was looking for as the Volunteers pounded out 16 hits and cruised to a 14-6 victory over UNC Asheville at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The first four hitters in the revamped UT lineup combined for nine hits, eight runs, six walks and nine RBIs.
“We did some good things,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “Obviously, we really swung the bats. One of the things that we put an emphasis on was getting the leadoff hitter on, and we got him on six of eight innings tonight. I think that was the difference for us. We’ve done some good things offensively, but when you don’t get the leadoff guy on it’s hard to score.
“We’ve been kind of looking at things a little bit and Zach (Osborne) is our leading hitter against lefties so we just decided to shuffle it up a little bit. I just want more guys on for (Khayyan Norfork). He may be the best lead-off guy in the country right now, but he is also our top hitter with runners in scoring position right now. We just wanted to give it a look and it worked tonight. That doesn’t mean it’s set in stone, but I do like it against lefties.”
Hitting in the leadoff spot for the first time this season, senior Josh Liles was 2-for-3 with a pair of runs, two RBIs and a stolen base. Not to be outdone, junior Zach Osborne finished a home run away from the cycle with a perfect 3-for-3, three-run, three-RBI effort in his second appearance in the No. 2 position.
Batting in the three-hole for the first time, senior Khayyan Norfork tied his career high with three walks in addition to scoring twice, bringing home two more, stealing his league-leading 20th base and going 2-for-3 at the dish. To round out the top four in the lineup, senior Matt Duffy was 2-for-5 in the cleanup spot. He also knocked in two runs to increase his SEC-leading RBI total to 30.
Also posting a stellar offensive performance was senior Tyler Horne who had his best game of the year, going 3-for-5 with two RBIs. Junior Matt Ramsey, meanwhile, extended his hitting streak to six games with a pair of singles.
Picking up the win on the mound for the Volunteers was freshman Carter Watson who improved to a team-best 5-1 on the season with two innings of one-hit baseball, during which he struck out three hitters. Sophomore Drew Steckenrider closed out the contest with a perfect ninth, striking out all three batters he faced.
It was actually the Bulldogs that got on the board first, plating a run with a double and a two-out single off of UT starter Jon Reed. Tennessee answered immediately and resoundingly though, scoring three runs in the home half of the frame. The Big Orange needed just eight pitches to take the lead in the contest as Liles drew a four-pitch walk before Osborne laced an 0-2 offering to right for a triple.
Norfork then followed with a perfectly executed bunt on the very next pitch that went for an RBI single. Just two batters later, Norfork quickly swiped second despite an attempt at a pitch out before racing home to make it 3-1 Tennessee on a single back up the middle by Ramsey.
Asheville made it a one-run game with an RBI single by Jordan Lurie in the top of the second, but Reed was able to keep the lead intact by working out of a bases-loaded jam. The Orange and White wasted little time getting its offense rolling once again, as it tallied three runs for the second straight stanza to take a commanding 6-2 advantage.
Back-to-back errors started off the frame before Liles sliced a double into right-center on a hit-and-run, allowing both runners to race around to score. Osborne followed by ripping a 3-1 fastball inside the line at third for another two-bagger that knocked Liles in.
Following a scoreless third, Tennessee tacked on two more in the fourth on a sac fly by Osborne and an RBI groundout by Duffy. Ramsey did some work in the fifth to give UT another tally, leading off the inning with a single before stealing second, moving to third on a double play and scoring on a passed ball. The Vols’ final run would come in the seventh when junior Wes Walker collected his second RBI of his UT career with a bases-loaded single in his only at-bat of the day.
The Bulldogs refused to go away quietly, however, scoring four runs on six hits in the top of the eighth to cut its deficit to single digits at 14-6. That would be as close as they would get though, as Godley left the bases loaded when Nick Collazo hit a long flyball to right that UT junior Chris Pierce settled under on the warning track for the final out. Steckenrider then slammed the door closed in the ninth by striking out all three batters he faced on just 14 pitches.
Tennessee will hit the road this weekend for a three-game set at No. 3 Florida in Gainesville. The Vols will take on the Gators at 7 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. The first two games of the series will be televised live on Comcast Sports Southeast with Bernie Guenther and Brian Jordan on the call.
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 improves to 19-6…The Vols are now 22-6 all-time against UNC Asheville, including a 19-6 mark in Knoxville…With 14 runs, UT scored in double-digits for the seventh time this season…The Big Orange had five players record multi-hit contests, including each of the first four batters in the lineup…Those four batters were a combined 9-for-14 with eight runs scored, six walks and nine RBIs…The Vols drew a season-high 10 walks and struck out a season-low one time...Seven Tennessee pitchers combined to strike out 12 hitters…The Big Orange did not make an error for the fourth consecutive game and 10th time this year…That matches the longest errorless streak since the team also went four games without a defensive miscue from March 18-22 in 2009…The Vols had three stolen bases to increase their SEC-leading total to 63…The Tennessee leadoff hitter reached base in six of eight innings…Official game time was three hours, five minutes for UT’s sixth 3+ hour game this season.
Matt Ramsey had two singles to stretch his hitting streak to six games…Khayyan Norfork continue to pad his SEC-leading totals, moving his hit total to 44 and stolen base mark to 20….Norfork, hitting in the three hole for the first time this season, also had his team-leading 15th multi-hit contest and matched his career high with three walks...Zach Osborne and Tyler Horne both had their second three-hit games of the season…Osborne also added a season-high three RBIs as he finished a home run away from the cycle and had a sacrifice fly…Matt Duffy tallied two RBIs to increase his SEC-leading total to 30…Wes Walker had a single in his only at-bat after coming on as a defensive replacement behind the plate…He also knocked in his second run of the season…Drew Steckenrider struck out all three batters he faced in the top of the ninth to close out the game.