After evening their series with the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday with an 8-6 victory, the Tennessee BaseVols (24-21, 8-13) won the final game of the series on a windy, cloudy day at Robert M. Lindsay Field.
With an eight-team, double-elimination format set for the 2010 SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., each game will prove crucial for the Volunteers and Wildcats.
"This was huge for us," Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "Not just the fact that they're one team we're battling for Hoover, but the fact that if we finish in a tie with them, we have a tiebreaker. It was a must-win for us."
Lefty Steven Gruver got the win at the mound for the Vols, entering Sunday's contest with a 2-3 record, 6.35 ERA.
With two outs in the first inning, Kentucky infielder Braden Kapteyn got the scoring started early, bringing home senior Gunner Glad on a single to put the Wildcats up 1-0.
After Gruver closed the inning on an impressive out at first, neither team would earn a base hit in the next nine at-bats.
Kentucky outfielder Sam Kidd made an impressive catch a Matt Ramsey hit near the right-field fence to save a Volunteer scoring opportunity with Charley Thurber on base in the second inning.
In the third inning, with Zach Osborne on first following a single, the sophomore would scamper to second after a wild pitch to Cody Grisham. Osborne would then steal third with Khayyan Norfork at bat.
Norfork then made a baseline hit, which would catch him out at first, while bringing Osborne home to even the score at 1-1.
Stagnation at the batter's box resumed following the Osborne run, as P.J. Polk snagged two deep fly balls near the left-field fence in the fourth inning to prevent a Kentucky score.
Kentucky pitcher Jordan Cooper hit a wall in the sixth inning, loading the bases with Polk, Cody Hawn and Blake Forsythe on a single, a walk and a single respectively.
Left-handed pitcher Mike Kaczmarek would relieve Cooper, immediately striking out Volunteer pinch hitter Matt Hamaker in four pitches.
On the next pitch, Matt Ramsey would fire a quick ball straight to the mound, where Kaczmarek fumbled the ball for an error, allowing P.J. Polk to score and put the Volunteers up 2-1.
"He hits it straight to the pitcher, I'm thinking it's up the middle, it's a double play," Raleigh said. "He fumbles it, he gets one out and we're fortunate there, because it could have been a double play."
The Volunteers would make their own pitching change in the seventh, replacing Steven Gruver with sophomore Will Locante. Gruver threw 96 pitches, nailing 57 strikes to end with two strikeouts and a 5.72 ERA.
"He was unbelieveable," Raleigh said. "He hasn't been pitching great lately. I don't really think he had tremendous stuff today, I think he just battled. The kid has tremendous character, because his arm is not quite where it was earlier in the year. He reinvented himself to find a way to win."
In the seventh inning, sophomore Michael Williams replaced Marcus Nidiffer at catcher for the Wildcats, which would prove costly in the bottom of the inning.
With one out and Khayyan Norfork on first, a wild pitch by Kaczmarek sent Williams chasing down the ball, while Norfork ran to third on a stolen base. Nick Kennedy would emerge from the dugout to replace Kaczmarek.
The collapse would continue for the Wildcats, as Josh Liles attempted to steal second base, bringing two Kentucky basemen to close in.
Meanwhile, Norfork grabbed his second stolen base in the inning, making a break for home which resulted in a wild pitch over the catcher's head. Norfork would score to put the Vols up 3-1, while Liles landed at third base.
"It could have went either way," Norfork said. "He could have threw me out at home. That's the chance we take as a team. That will win you games or lose you games, but I'll take my chances."
"We put a little trick play on them we had," Raleigh. "We work on that a lot believe it or not. When playing it looked like it wasn't but, we had that play drawn up."
The Wildcats escaped the seventh with an out on a Blake Forsythe pop-fly, retiring two basemen.
After Locante let two runners on base after a double and a walk, senior Steve Crnkovich was called to the mound to close the game in the top of the eighth.
Crnkovich closed out the inning, before finishing the ninth with an out at second, a strikeout and a fly-out to centerfield.
StatsWin – Steven Gruver (3-3) Loss – Jordan Cooper (2-4) Save – Steve Crnkovich (1) Will Locante – 1.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO Steve Crnkovich – 2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO K. Norfork – 1 H, 1 RBI, 0 HR; Z Osborne – 1 H, 0 RBI, 0 HR Attendance:1800