KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Strong pitching continued to be the story at Lindsey Nelson Stadium as redshirt freshman Jon Reed and sophomore Drew Steckenrider earned the first win and save of their respective collegiate careers when the Tennessee baseball team (4-1) clinched its second straight series victory with a 6-2 triumph over Canisius (3-3) on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in Knoxville.
“Obviously, I have been very pleased with our pitching so far this weekend,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “The biggest thing for (Jon) was that he kept his pitch count down. He probably could have gone a little more, but he is coming off of Tommy John surgery and we had plenty of pitching left after getting a good start yesterday. Steckenrider is getting healthy and we know what he can do, so it was time to get him out there.”
Making his second career start, Reed limited the Griffins to just a pair of runs on four hits over six solid innings of work. The Tulsa, Okla., native struck out two and walked three while throwing just 73 pitches. Steckenrider was equally impressive out of the bullpen, twirling a career-high three scoreless frames while striking out personal-best four batters and yielding just two hits.
The Vols nearly recorded their second straight sub-two hour contest, finishing off the victory in two hours and one minute. Through five games, UT is averaging two hours and 25 minutes per contest. The 4-1 start is the first for Tennessee since Raleigh’s first year at Rocky Top in 2008.
At the plate, junior shortstop Zach Osborne added another strong performance after going 2-for-2 with a pair of doubles and two walks in the series opener Friday night. The Louisville, Ky., product was perfect once again, posting three hits in three at-bats, knocking in one run and scoring another. He currently leads the team with a .583 batting average this season.
“(Zach) has been unbelievable, both offensively and defensively,” Raleigh said. “He delivered big today. He got a bunt down and chopped one over their heads because they were playing in. He’s giving us great at bats, not chasing hits. He is just doing a great job.”
Senior second baseman Khayyan Norfork, meanwhile, increased his team-leading RBI total to seven with three more on Friday in a 2-for-3, two-walk effort. He is the only Vol to hit safely in all five games so far this season and is hitting at a smooth .500 clip on the year.
Tennessee wasted precious little time grabbing the momentum on Saturday, putting a notch on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first. Norfork got the ball rolling with a leadoff walk and senior Josh Liles followed with a single to center. Both players then moved up 90 feet on a successful double steal before senior Matt Duffy was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Junior Matt Ramsey then grounded into a double play, but it was enough to bring Norfork in from third and give the Vols an early lead.
Canisius would come back to tie it in the top of the fourth with a run-scoring groundout by Shane Zimmer, but the Big Orange answered back immediately, plating three runs in the bottom of the frame. Freshman Andrew Toles brought home the first run with a double down the left-field line that put two runners in scoring position for Norfork. He would come through as well, chopping a single over the third baseman’s head to bring both Osborne and Toles home to score.
Zimmer would come through for the Griffins again in the sixth as he moved them a run closer and brought the tally to 4-2 with an RBI single, but that would be as close as they would get.
Although Steckenrider was already effectively shutting the door with his work on the mound, the Vols gave him two more runs to work with in the bottom of the eighth, going up 6-2. Junior Charley Thurber led things off by punching one the opposite way just inches inside the left-field foul line for a double before giving way on the basepaths to pinch runner Chris Pierce. A sac bunt by junior Davis Morgan moved Pierce up to third, allowing Osborne to bring him home easily with an RBI single. Toles followed with a fielder’s choice that erased Osborne from the bases, but he promptly swiped second, the first stolen base of his career, before coming home to score on a single to left by Norfork.
With a four-run lead, Steckenrider wasted little time finishing out the contest, striking out the final two batters of the game to earn the three-inning save.
Tennessee will go for the series sweep at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon against Canisius. Junior Jerod Peper will take the baseball for the Vols, while freshman Garrett Cortright will make his second start for the Griffins. Kids 17-and-under will receive free admission to the contest and will be allowed to run the bases and get autographs from the team after the game.
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Saturday’s official attendance was 1,380…Through five games, Tennessee is averaging 1,690 fans per contest…The last time UT opened the season with a 4-1 record was in 2008…The Vols nearly recorded their second consecutive sub-two hour game, finishing in 2:01 after winning in 1:52 yesterday…UT improved to 2-0 all-time against Canisius…Redshirt freshman Jon Reed recorded his first career victory…Sophomore Drew Steckenrider tallied his first career save with a career-high three innings pitched…He also set a career high with four strikeouts…The Vols have three saves from three different pitchers this season after recording just four all of last year...With a run in the fourth, Canisius snapped a 17.1 inning stretch in which the UT pitching staff had not allowed a run…An error by Khayyan Norfork in the fourth inning was Tennessee’s first miscue by a position player in the first 47.1 innings to start the 2011 campaign…Zach Osborne is hitting .700 (7-for-10) during his current four-game hitting streak…He is 5-or-5 with an RBI sac bunt, a walk and a run scored during the series against Canisius…Norfork has hit safely in all five games this season…He had two more hits on Saturday in his first game as the team’s leadoff hitter…With another double on Saturday, Andrew Toles is now tied with Matt Duffy for the team lead with four…All four of his collegiate hits have been doubles…The Vols have now used five different lineups in the first five games of the season.