KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee baseball team rallied from an early deficit before staving off a late push to claim a 7-6 victory and clinch the season-opening series over Milwaukee on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
"What won us the game today was our defense and I think that's what gets lost in all of this," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "We only made one error and that was from a pitcher on a pick-off play. Ky (Norfork) and Zach (Osborne) both made a number of great plays. We're playing tremendous defense out there and that's going to be our style. We need to go out and do the same thing tomorrow."
The 2,234 orange-clad fans in attendance were introduced to a number of new faces on the mound, including junior Levi Dean and freshman Nick Williams, who picked up their first career win and save, respectively. Dean came on in relief of starter Jon Reed to throw three scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out four. Williams, meanwhile, pitched the ninth inning for the second straight day. Freshman Carter Watson made his collegiate debut as well, working 0.2 innings late in the contest.
"Levi (Dean) did great," Raleigh said. "It took him awhile to get into rhythm in his first career outing, but he was terrific once he got the butterflies out. I thought Nick Blount was great in his first inning but lost a little bit of focus in the second. That was our only really bad inning in two days on the mound, walking three, but thankfully Ky made a great play. Then Carter Watson and Nick Williams were both outstanding. Nick gave up a couple of hits, but they are both going to be great pitchers for us over the next few years."
The Volunteer bats started to come alive a bit on Saturday as they collected five extra-base hits, including the first home run of the year by senior Khayyan Norfork. The Ripley, Tenn., native also added a triple and scored two runs as he improved to 4-for-7 (.571) on the young season. Fellow classmate Tyler Horne knocked in a pair of runs with two doubles and a single in a 3-for-4 effort, while junior Matt Duffy was 2-for-3 with a double and a sacrifice fly.
"Tyler has been outstanding," Raleigh said. "He had a great day today. He's been a real pleasure to coach and is a tremendous presence in the box. He's going to be a real force for us. This summer he approached me about returning to the team. We had good talks, he was very sincere. We said if he was willing to work hard and do this and that, we would give him the opportunity and he took it and ran with it. He's been great to have and I'm really glad he's here. "
Tennessee struck first in the bottom of the second when Duffy and Horne blasted doubles to almost the exact same spot in the left-centerfield gap off of Panther starter Jayme Sukowaty. Milwaukee answered immediately though, scoring its first three runs of the season in the next frame, all with two outs on the scoreboard.
Trailing for the first time in 2011, the Big Orange wasted precious little time formulating its response, scoring two runs without the benefit of even a single hit in the bottom of the third. Junior Zach Osborne opened the frame with a walk before freshman Andrew Toles was hit by a pitch. A sac bunt by Norfork moved them both up 90 feet before a wild pitch allowed Osborne to scamper home. Senior Josh Liles then perfectly executed a safety squeeze that brought Toles in and tied the game.
UT tacked on three more tallies in the fifth thanks to a sacrifice fly by Duffy, his second in two days, an RBI double by Horne and a run-scoring single by sophomore Chris Fritts. The Vols then made it six unanswered runs when Norfork led off the seventh by launching the team's first home run of the 2011 campaign over the 390-foot marker in straight-away center.
Trailing 7-3, the Panthers weren't done fighting quite yet, however, inching closer with a pair of runs in the top of the eighth. After a dominating frame in the seventh, Blount struggled with his control in the eighth, walking three batters to load the bases before a wild pitch brought home a run. Tennessee would then turn to Watson to stop the bleeding. The first batter he faced hit a sharp groundball to the hole at second, but Norfork made a tremendous diving stop to get the second out of the inning and save a run. Watson then got another groundout to second to halt the threat.
With another freshman on the mound for Tennessee in Williams, Milwaukee would attempt to even the score again in the ninth. It got off to a quick start, getting a double and back-to-back singles right out of the gate to cut its deficit to a single run. Williams would bear down though, making a nice play on an attempted sac bunt to get the lead runner at third before striking out Sam Sivilotti with a high fastball and getting Sam Koenig to ground out to Osborne at short to end the game.
The Volunteers will go for the series sweep at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Junior right-hander Jerod Peper, a junior college transfer from Seminole State College in Oklahoma, will start the game on the mound. Milwaukee will counter with sophomore righty Jordan Guth. Live audio of the contest will be broadcast on The Sports Animal (FM 99.1/99.3/AM 990) and at UTSports.com with John Wilkerson and Kyle Hixson on the call.
For the most up-to-date information on Tennessee baseball, visit www.UTSports.com/baseball and follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.
GAME NOTES With Saturday's attendance of 2,234, a total of 4,579 have passed through the turnstiles at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on the first two days of the 2011 campaign…UT also won its second game of the season in 2010 by an identical 7-6 tally, defeating Xavier…Redshirt freshman Jon Reed, junior Levi Dean and freshman Carter Watson each made their Tennessee debut on Saturday…Freshman Nick Williams pitched the ninth inning for the second consecutive day, earning his first collegiate save…Seven of UT's nine starters had at least one hit…The only two that didn't, Andrew Toles and Josh Liles, scored a run and had an RBI, respectively…Toles was hit by two pitches and has now been hit three times in his first two collegiate games…Junior Chris Pierce made his first UT plate appearance, drawing a walk…Khayyan Norfork's seventh-inning home run traveled approximately 410 feet to straight-away center…Junior Charley Thurber picked up Tennessee's first outfield assist of the season, nailing a runner at third in the top of the third inning…The Vols have won or tied their opening-weekend series in all four seasons under head coach Todd Raleigh…Tennessee executed two safety squeezes, one successful and one unsuccessful…UT scored two runs in the bottom of the third inning before recording a hit...Tennessee left just six runners on base, while Milwaukee stranded 11…The Panthers have left 21 runners on base in the first two games of the series, compared to 13 by the Vols...The UT pitching staff has an impressive 20:9 groundball-to-fly ball ratio through the first two games of the season…Junior Matt Ramsey gunned down another runner on Saturday and has thrown out the first two attempted base stealers to test his arm this season.