KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee baseball team scored three times in the bottom of the seventh before freshman Nick Williams and junior Matt Ramsey slammed the door in a 6-4 victory over Ole Miss by striking out the side in each of the last two innings on a soggy Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The victory evens the weekend series and sets up a rubber match at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The Volunteers' record improves to 18-5 on the season and 2-3 in Southeastern Conference play while Ole Miss falls to 17-7 and 2-3 in league action.
"This was a tough, tough game in tough conditions," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "Their pitcher was really good. He was throwing it in the mid-90s, but we battled. I'm not going to say it was our best game of the year, because it wasn't, but sometimes you have to find a way to win when you don't play your best and I thought we did that today. We just didn't quit. They didn't play their best game either and let us in a little bit, but we took advantage of it."
As a team, the Vols had just eight hits, all of which were singles. After not stealing a base on Friday night, they returned to their aggressive style of baserunning though, with five players swiping a total of six bags. The Rebels also aided the Orange and White's cause with a season-high four errors in the contest.
Senior Matt Duffy continued his hot streak at the plate, collecting two more hits after a three-hit performance on Friday night. He also knocked in a run to increase his SEC-leading RBI total to 28 and stole two more bases to give him seven thefts on the year. Also recording a couple of hits was freshman Andrew Toles, while senior Josh Liles brought two runs in to score.
Earning the first victory of his collegiate career was Williams. The Knoxville native struck out five of the seven batters he faced over his two innings of work. After retiring the side in order in the seventh, Williams yielded a leadoff home run to Ole Miss' Alex Yarbrough in the top of the eighth. He bounced right back though, striking out the next three hitters to keep the damage to a minimum.
With UT leading by two runs going into the ninth, it turned to shutdown closer Ramsey for the final three outs. He did walk a couple of batters, but more than made up for it by following Williams' example and using his mid-90s fastball and "hammer" curveball to strike out the side as well. With his effort, he picked up his third save of the season and ninth of his career, moving him into a tie with Rich DeLucia (83-86) for the fifth-most in Tennessee history.
In his first career SEC starting assignment, senior Rob Catapano gave the Vol pitching staff a much-needed shot in the arm with five quality innings to open the game. He struck out two and allowed just two runs on six hits and a pair of walks as he matched his longest appearance to date in a Tennessee uniform.
"Rob Catapano really set the tone for us. He really shouldn't have given up a run. They were earned, but those are plays we normally make. We needed that so bad. I can't say enough about what Rob did today."
With the score tied at 3-3 through six and a half frames, the Vols finally got the big inning they had been looking for the last two days. In one of his best at-bats of the season, Toles led off the inning by fouling off seven pitches in a 10-pitch at-bat before hustling out an infield single to the hole at second. Duffy then followed with a base-knock to left before both he and Toles moved up 90 feet on a successful double steal.
Liles proceeded to string together another 10-pitch AB against Ole Miss starter David Goforth before punching a single center to plate both Toles and Duffy and give the Big Orange the lead. Once on first, he wasted little time getting himself into scoring position with UT's third theft of the frame. Following a fly out to right, Liles moved up to third on an infield single by Ramsey and scored on a passed ball.
The Rebels got out of the inning without any further damage and immediately got one of the runs back in the top of the eighth as Yarbrough launched a deep fly to right on just the second pitch of the stanza. Williams did not let the longball phase him though as he battled back to fan the next three hitters before Ramsey followed suit in the ninth to finish off the game.
Ole Miss actually struck the first blow of the game by putting a tally on the scoreboard in the top half of the first. Rebel leadoff hitter Tanner Mathis greeted Catapano out of the gate with a single to center on just the second pitch of the game. A sac bunt and a flyout down the line in right moved him up to third before a wild pitch allowed him to cross home as the first run of the day.
The Vols took their first lead of the weekend in the home half of the third when junior Chris Pierce opened with a first-pitch single to center, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on an RBI single by Khayyan Norfork. After a walk to Toles pushed Norfork into scoring position, Duffy brought him home with UT's third single of the inning.
The score returned to a deadlock momentarily in the top of the fifth as Ole Miss used a leadoff triple and a sacrifice fly to tie the score at 2-2. The Big Orange answered almost instantly though, with Norfork scoring again in the bottom half of the inning. The Ripley, Tenn., native reached to start the frame on an error by the shortstop. He then moved up to second on a groundout before stealing third. After a walk to Duffy, Liles laid down a safety squeeze in front of the plate. Norfork was forced to retreat to third on the play, but came scampering home when the catcher's throw to first sailed into right field.
Once again, the Rebels got a leadoff triple to start the sixth, however, and the score moved back into a tie at 3-3 on an RBI groundout by pinch-hitter Jordan King, setting up Tennessee's three-run seventh.
Round three between the Vols and Rebels will take place at 2 p.m. on Sunday with the winner claiming the series victory. Bob Kesling and Rusty Ensor will call the game for television on SportSouth, while John Wilkerson and former UT pitcher Craig Cobb will handle the radio duties on the Sports Animal (FM 99.1/99.3). Junior Levi Dean will put his 4-0 record and 1.35 ERA on the line for the Vols, while junior southpaw Austin Wright (2-2, 3.95) will get the nod on the hill for Ole Miss.
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