LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Tennessee baseball team rallied from three different deficits before hitting a pair of three-run home runs in a six-run sixth inning en route to evening its weekend series against Kentucky with a 12-8 victory on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Cliff Hagen Stadium. The win sets up a rubber match between the two squads at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
“We just battled all day and showed a lot of resolve,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “We had some great performances today. Almost everyone contributed offensively. After losing a really tough game last night we showed a lot of resolve, especially after getting down early and with (Kentucky) holding all of the momentum. We just kept getting in there offensively and kept putting pressure on them. Nick Blount was the difference today though, there is no question. He came in and shut the door when we needed him.
“We find different ways to win. I don’t think we played our best game today and certainty didn’t pitch the way we have been. But we found a different way to win. Some days you don’t pitch good and you have to score more runs. Whatever it takes. We’re not perfect. We have a long way to go to get to where we want to be, but that resolve is hard to teach.”
After Kentucky scored six runs in the first four innings, sophomore Nick Blount came out of the UT bullpen to record his first career save. The Loganville, Ga., native retired the first nine batters he faced before allowing a pair of harmless runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. He finished with 3.2 innings on the mound, striking out three without a walk.
Junior Levi Dean improved to 4-0 on the season with three innings of middle relief as well. He yielded two runs on three hits and four walks after coming on in relief of starter Drew Steckenrider.
Offensively, eight different Volunteers had at least one RBI and nine recorded at least on hit as the team scored its 12 runs on 16 hits. Senior Khayyan Norfork continued his torrid pace, recording his first four-hit contest of the year and the second of his career. The 5-10 second baseman had four singles, including two of the infield variety, scored a run and knocked in another.
Freshman Andrew Toles and junior Charley Thurber each launched three-run home runs during UT’s sixth-inning onslaught. For Toles, it was the first of his career, while it was Thurber’s second of the season and 13th as a Vol. Junior Zach Osborne and senior Josh Liles had multi-hit contests as well. Liles also worked two free passes while Osborne swiped pair of bases and drew a walk of his own. Both players also had an RBI.
For the 16th time this season, the Vols scored the first run of the game, taking full advantage of the speed of Toles in the opening frame. With one out on the board, the freshman hit a high chopper about three feet out in front of the plate. He would race down the line though and easily beat the throw from UK pitcher Jordan Cooper. Just seconds later, he would steal second before moving to third on a flyout by Matt Duffy to right and coming home to score on an infield single by Liles.
Kentucky would post an immediate response though, using RBI singles from Luke Maile and J.T. Riddle to put three tallies on the scoreboard and take a 3-1 lead.
After a scoreless second, a sacrifice fly by UT senior Tyler Horne and a double high off of the extended wall in right-center by freshman Ethan Bennett brought the game back to a deadlock at 3-3. Once again, however, Kentucky regained the advantage in the home-half of the inning with a run-scoring groundout by Michael Williams.
The Vols refused to go away and tied the game up for the second time on an RBI groundout of their own, this one by Matt Duffy. Much like both the first and third innings, the Wildcat response was instantaneous, with Chad Wright putting UK back in the lead with a two-run home run.
Trailing 6-4 after five innings, the Big Orange exploded in the sixth, putting up a six-spot thanks to three-run home runs by Toles and Thurber. Pinch-hitter Chris Fritts opened the frame with a leadoff single and moved to second on a sac bunt by Osborne. Norfork followed with a single to right before Toles blasted an 0-2 curveball down the right-field line to give the Vols a 7-6 lead.
They weren’t done quite yet, however, as an infield single by Duffy and a walk to Liles put two on for Thurber. The Wildcats would make a call to the bullpen, bringing in Walter Wijas, but Thurber greeted him rudely, smashing his second offering well over the wall in left-center towards the UK football practice fields.
“Both of the (home runs) were big,” Raleigh said. “Three-run homers are three-run homers. There’s nothing like them and to get two in an inning doesn’t happen very often, especially with the new bats. Charley’s at-bats have been getting better and it was good to see Toles get his first career home run.
With UT holding a comfortable 10-6 lead, Kentucky threatened to thwart Tennessee’s offensive efforts once again by putting two runners on with just one out. The Vols would call on Blount out of the bullpen and he delivered, getting Braden Kapteyn to fly out to right and Maile to ground out to shortstop to end the stanza.
Although Blount was dealing on the mound, the Big Orange gave him two more runs to work with in the top of the ninth thanks to a two-out rally. With Matt Ramsey standing on second, Osborne punched a single to right to bring him around the final 180 feet. Osborne then stole both second and third before coming home on a high chop single to third by Norfork.
Blount came back out for the ninth and got two quick outs before running into a little trouble when Thomas McCarthy golfed a first-pitch fastball out of the park to left for a two-run shot. The next two hitters singled as well, but Blount was able to settle down and get pinch-hitter Mike Kacsmarek to fly out to left to end the game.
Tennessee will look for its first SEC series victory of the season in the rubber match between UT and Kentucky at 1 p.m. Sunday. Freshman Carter Watson (3-0, 0.00) will make his first collegiate start for the Vols, while Taylor Rogers (1-1, 4.62) will get the nod for the Wildcats.
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 improved to 16-3 on the season…Eight different UT players had at least one RBI…Five Vols had multiple-hit contests…The Orange and White hit two home runs in the sixth inning for its first multi-home run frame of the season…The Vols posted their sixth errorless contest of the year and first since March 9 vs. New Orleans…UT recorded its ninth save of the season with the seventh different pitcher doing the honors…The Orange and White had four more stolen bases to increase its SEC-leading total to 49 in 59 attempts…UT was 7-for-14 (.500) with runners in scoring position and 7-for-16 (.438) with two outs on Saturday...Tennessee improves to 150-127 all-time against Kentucky…Official game time was three hours, eight minutes…That is the second longest game of the year for the Big Orange.
Nick Blount retired the first nine batters he faced en route to picking up the first save of his collegiate career…Khayyan Norfork tallied a season-high four hits…Freshman Andrew Toles and Charley Thurber each hit three-run home runs in the sixth inning…It was Toles’ first collegiate home run and the second of the year for Thurber…Zach Osborne doubled his season stolen base total with two thefts on Saturday...He also recorded his 19th career sacrifice bunt, moving him into a tie with Tony Delmonico for second all-time in Tennessee history…Toles (10) and Liles (6) each picked up a stolen base as well…Chris Pierce threw a runner out trying to stretch a single into a double in the fourth inning for his first outfield assist at Tennessee…Matt Duffy was hit by a pitch for the team-high 10th time this season…Norfork and Liles each extended their hitting streaks to 10 games, tying career highs for both…Norfork has now hit safely in 18-of-19 games this season…Toles also extended his hitting streak to five contests…Norfork and Duffy have now reached base in all 19 games in 2011.