KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee baseball team rallied from a three-run deficit and the bullpen closed out the game with three scoreless innings as the Volunteers took the first game in a home-and-home mid-week series against Middle Tennessee State, 5-4, on Tuesday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“We did a good job tonight,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “I thought we came out a little flat, but we got into the game. Zack Godley and Nick Williams did a great job out of the bullpen and Matt Duffy had a great game, so I was happy with that. We’ve got to take this momentum into tomorrow. We’re going to get their Friday night guy tomorrow, so it’s going to be a little bit tougher for us over there, but we’ve got to try to do the same thing and get some momentum going into LSU.”
Sophomore Zack Godley picked up the first win of his collegiate career with two perfect innings out of the bullpen, striking out two. He then handed the ball over to freshman Nick Williams who posted a scoreless ninth to tally his third save of the season. Jud Stoltz suffered the loss for the Blue Raiders after allowing three runs on two hits and a walk in a third of an inning.
Senior Matt Duffy had a pair of doubles and scored two runs to pace the Big Orange offense. Junior Davis Morgan added a couple of singles, while sophomore Chris Fritts drove in two runs with a two-out single and a bases-loaded walk. Freshman Andrew Toles and senior Josh Liles each had a sacrifice fly in the contest as well.
The Vols were the first to crack the scoreboard, getting a run in the bottom of the second. Duffy smoked a first-pitch fastball to the corner in left for a double and moved up to third on a wild pitch as freshman Ethan Bennett drew a walk. After a strikeout, Fritts came through with a big two-out hit to put UT ahead, 1-0.
MTSU responded immediately, however, scoring twice on a run-scoring double play ball and a two-out single in the top of the third to grab the lead. The Blue Raiders extended their advantage to three runs at 4-1 with two more runs in the fifth.
Undeterred, the Orange and White chipped into the deficit in the home half of the fifth. UT used a leadoff single from Morgan, a throwing error and a base hit by Liles to load the bases with nobody out. Although Toles brought Morgan home with a sacrifice fly, that would be all Tennessee would get as the next batter grounded into an inning-ending double play.
The setback proved momentary though as the Vols got right back on track in the sixth. Once again, the Big Orange got a leadoff hit as Norfork smoked a line drive to center. The single skipped past the center fielder, however, and he moved all the way up to third on the error. He then came home just two pitches later on an RBI groundout by sophomore Drew Steckenrider that put UT within one at 4-3.
Duffy followed with his second double of the day before a walk and a hit by pitch loaded the bases with just one out. A five-pitch walk to Fritts by MTSU relief pitcher Hunter Dawson then tied the game at 4-4. Tennessee took the lead seconds later when Liles lifted a sac fly to center that scored Bennett from third.
From there, it was all about the Volunteer bullpen as Godley and Williams faced the minimum over the final three innings. The only baserunner came on an error in the ninth and he was promptly erased from the basepaths on a 6-4-3 double play that ended the game.
Freshman Carter Watson (5-2, 4.18) will make the start for Tennessee tomorrow in his hometown of Murfreesboro as the Vols go for the sweep in the mid-week series at 7 p.m. ET at Hunter Reese Jr. Field. Right-hander Daniel Palo (1-7, 6.46) will get the starting assignment for MTSU.
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Tennessee returns to .500 at 23-23 with the win, which snapped an eight-game skid…UT is now 32-17 all-time against Middle Tennessee State and has won five straight over the Blue Raiders…The Vols are now 18-4 in non-conference games…The Big Orange stranded just six runners, as did MTSU...Three of UT’s nine hits came with two outs…The Vols also had a pair of sacrifice flies for the second time this season (vs. Canisius 2/27)…Tennessee got the leadoff hitter on base three times, scoring twice…UT picked up its 12th save of the season, but first since April 16 at Alabama…Official game time was two hours, five minutes, UT’s third-quickest nine-inning game of the season.
Matt Duffy and Davis Morgan each had a pair of hits, their 18th and fourth multi-hit efforts of the year…Both extended their hitting streaks to four games, as did Khayyan Norfork and Zach Osborne…Both of Duffy’s hits were doubles…Chris Fritts had a pair of RBIs with a run-scoring single and a bases-loaded walk…It was his third multi-RBI game this season…T.J. Thornton made the second start of his career…Zack Godley struck two in two perfect innings to pick up the first win of his collegiate career…Nick Williams collected his third save, tying him for the team lead, with a scoreless ninth inning…His three saves tie him with Luke Hochevar (2003) and Patrick Hicklen (2001) for the third-most ever by a Tennessee freshman.