Last week, the Southeastern Conference announced its 2010 preseason baseball predictions as voted by the coaches. Receiving just 19 points — the lowest total of any team in the league — Tennessee was picked to finish dead last in the SEC’s Eastern Division.
The season is still extremely young, but if this weekend is any indication, some coaches may want to rethink their vote.
After combining for 23 runs in the first two games of the series, Tennessee exploded for 17 more on Sunday, defeating Xavier and earning a series sweep against the Musketeers to open the 2010 season. The weekend total of 40 runs is the most the Vols have scored in a three-game series since March of 2005 when it scored 47 against Radford.
With freshman Josh Murphy making his first-ever appearance on the mound for Xavier, the Vols were able to capitalize on early mistakes. Two walks, a wild pitch, and a throwing error led to three first inning runs.
Already leading 5-1, Tennessee blew the game wide open in the sixth inning. With Vols on every base, pinch hitter Charlie Thurber hit the first pitch over the right field wall. It was the first pinch-hit grand slam for Tennessee since Justin Branson did it against Georgia in 2003. The Vols would go on to score eight runs in the inning.
P.J. Polk continued his blazing start, going 3-for-4 on the afternoon. Polk finished a red-hot 9-for-12 in series with three walks.
“I didn’t think I would be this hot this weekend,” Polk said. “I just tried to take what the pitchers gave me and not try to do to much and have fun. I think I did that this weekend and hopefully we will just keep that going to next weekend.”
Tennessee received a solid effort from its starting pitcher, Stephen McCray, who forced 12 of the 16 batters he retired into groundouts. McCray allowed only three hits and one run in 5.1 innings of work.
“It felt good,” said McCray. “I was able to change speeds well, keep the ball down, sort of keep the hitters off balance moving the ball around just relying on the movement of the ball getting a lot of ground balls and letting my defense behind me play. I think you all saw how good they are behind me today.”
In Saturday’s comeback win, Tennessee relievers only allowed one run in five innings, keeping the Vols within striking distance. In Sunday’s finale, it was Rob Catapano, Dylan Hochevar, and Matt Ramsey who combined for 3.2 innings of scoreless relief, allowing just one hit.
“I like the guys coming out of the bullpen right now that are throwing strikes and not coming in walking a guy or hitting a guy,” Coach Todd Raleigh said. “We only threw Will Locante one inning. You saw what Matt Ramsey can do.”
“We are still finding some roles there but I like our pitching staff.”
Even though the Vols put up impressive numbers offensively in the series, Raleigh believes his team can improve.
“We battled offensively,” Raleigh said. “We scored a lot of runs but there’s still some room for improvement there, but I thought early we moved runners over and stole some bases and did some things. So I like the fact that were not one dimensional.”
Tennessee will now hit the road to take on a ranked Oregon State squad in a three-game series beginning on Friday.
CODY HAWN UPDATE
Cody Hawn continues to be sidelined with what has been labeled a sprained shoulder. Raleigh hopes to have Hawn back soon, but won’t rush him.
“Cody’s update is he’s day to day right now so we are just going to wait and see,” Raleigh said. “Everybody heals differently. We are not going to hurry him back we are just going to let it dictate how he feels. Hopefully we will have him next weekend. I think that might be a bit optimistic, but let’s look at it half full not half empty.”