LEXINGTON, Ky. – A four-run first inning by Kentucky proved to be a little too much for the Tennessee baseball team (16-4, 1-2) to overcome, as the Wildcats (11-8, 2-1) claimed the rubber match and the weekend series with a 7-3 victory on Sunday afternoon at Cliff Hagen Stadium.
“The big inning got us in all three games, and it put us behind today,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “It gave them the ability to make some pitches they normally wouldn’t make in certain counts. We did a great job offensively. How do get 13 hits and just three runs? That’s hard to do. I thought we hit three home runs but they were all to the wrong part of the park. We just couldn’t get that big hit. Offensively, I was extremely pleased like I have been all year.
“The good thing is that we kept fighting and kept giving ourselves chances every single inning. We didn’t go easy all day. We just lost control a little in that first inning and that let them relax a little bit. After that, we played good but we just couldn’t get that big hit. It seemed like every time we got something going it was with two outs. We just couldn’t get that big inning like we had yesterday. That was the difference in the game.”
After the team’s first-inning struggles, the Volunteer bullpen did a good job of keeping the game close as senior Rob Catapano, freshman Nick Williams, sophomore Zack Godley and junior Matt Ramsey combined to hold the Wildcats to just three runs over the next seven frames. The quartet struck out four and walked just one, led by two innings and three punchouts by Williams.
Senior Khayyan Norfork continued his scalding start to the 2011 season at the plate, posting another three-hit contest with a pair of doubles to up his batting average to an even .500 (37-for-74) on the season. He now leads the team with 13 multi-hit contests, including a trio of three-hit performances.
Fellow classmate Josh Liles also had three hits on Sunday as both he and Norfork extended their hitting streaks to career-high strings of 11 games. Over that span, Liles has increased his batting average 157 points, going from .167 to his current mark of .324. During the weekend series against the Wildcats, Norfork and Liles paced the UT offensive effort, hitting .533 (8-for-15) and .500 (6-for-12), respectively.
“It is just unbelievable what (Khayyan) is doing,” Raleigh said. “He’s hitting the ball to all fields, he’s a catalyst, his leadership is tremendous and he just plays with so much energy. It’s incredible to witness what we have witnessed through 20 games.”
In all, Tennessee and Kentucky both finished with 13 hits. Over half of the Orange and White’s came with two outs on the scoreboard, however, as it was 7-for-16 (.438) in that situation. That prevented the Vols from taking advantage of their team speed and working to manufacture any runs as they have done so often this season.
Kentucky raced out to a quick 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to an RBI single by Braden Kapteyn and a three-run home run to right by J.T. Riddle. UT was undeterred though, cutting its deficit in half with a single run in each of the next two stanzas.
The first came when junior Zach Osborne punched 1 -2 pitch through the right side of the infield for a single to bring Bennett in to score from third. Senior Matt Duffy tacked on another tally in the third inning when he launched the first offering from UK starter Taylor Rogers over the wall in left for his fourth home run of the year, tying Bennett for the team lead.
The Wildcats got an unearned run in the home-half of the third when Catapano was called for a balk with a runner on third base. The Vols kept battling though, as it cut into the UK lead once again with back-to-back two-out doubles by Osborne and Norfork.
That would be all Tennessee would be able to manage, however, as it left a season-high 12 runners on base over the course of the game. Kentucky, meanwhile, would add single runs in both the seventh and the eighth innings to account for the final score.
The Volunteers will look to return to the win column at 6 p.m. CT/7 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 23, when it closes out its five-game road trip at Lipscomb. From there, the Big Orange will return to Rocky Top for a three-game weekend series against Ole Miss.