KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Behind another superb outing from a starting pitcher, the University of Tennessee baseball team (5-5) absolutely dominated Binghamton on Saturday night, defeating the Bearcats 19-2 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville. Senior right-hander Stephen McCray was brilliant, throwing eight shutout innings, not allowing a hit until his final frame of work and striking out a career-high seven batters.
“Obviously, Stephen McCray was outstanding,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “He only gave up an infield single and that was it. He’s been almost unhittable all season. The last three games he has pitched are as good as any I’ve seen in a long time. I’m pretty happy with our starting pitching this weekend. You can’t really ask for any more than what they have given us.
A 6-4 native of Lilburn, Ga., McCray threw 101 pitches with 70 going for strikes and walked just one hitter all game. He also lasted 5 2/3 innings without allowing a hit in his last start against No. 10 Oregon State on Feb. 28. The win is his second of the season and dropped his ERA to a miniscule 0.89 on the year. Of the 24 outs he recorded, 14 were on groundouts, three came on flyballs and the final seven were via a strikeout. He has now induced 36 groundball outs in just 20.1 innings this year.
“I just felt good today,” McCray said. “I was able to locate real well and just focused on moving the ball around like I’ve been doing the past few weeks and letting the guys behind me play. I can’t do anything without them. It’s a lot easier to pitch with runs on the board too. It gives you a chance to calm down and relax. You don’t want to relax too much but it is comforting to know that you have a little room for error in case you run into trouble.”
The Volunteers dominated from the start, scoring 13 runs before Binghamton had a batter reach base. All nine Tennessee starters recorded at least one hit and scored a run, and all but one tallied an RBI. It was a good day to be named “Cody” in the UT lineup, as all three players with that given name – Cody Hawn, Cody Grisham and Cody Stubbs – posted three-hit performances. Senior Matt Hamaker also accomplished the feat for the second time this week. Hawn was the team’s most productive player, recording a season-high five RBIs, while Fritts and Hamaker knocked in three and two runs, respectively.
UT leadoff hitter P.J. Polk set the tone for the day by taking the first pitch he saw and parking it over the fence in right-center for a solo home run, his first of the year, to put the Big Orange on the board. Following a strikeout, consecutive walks to junior Josh Liles and Stubbs and a throwing error by the Bearcat catcher put runners on second and third for junior Blake Forsythe.
The Memphis, Tenn., product looped a single to shallow left to plate Liles from third for UT’s second run of the stanza. That would be all it could get though. BU recorded its second out on a line shot right at the third baseman by Hamaker and Hawn followed with a single up the middle that looked as if it would bring Liles home, but Forsythe was caught off the bag at second for the third out before Liles touched home plate.
“I thought P.J. set the tone today by hitting a home run on the first pitch,” Raleigh said. “That really helped our team relax and go out and play a good game. Cody Grisham did a good job as well, getting three hits and giving us a lift off the bench. We definitely needed that.”
Just two innings later, Tennessee put the game out of reach with its most productive inning since April 8, 2008, throwing a nine-spot up on the board along with nine hits. Stubbs and Forsythe started the frame with back-to-back singles before Hamaker made it three in-a-row with a single of the bunt variety to load the bases with Hawn stepping to the plate. The Knoxville native proceeded to clear the basepaths with the second grand slam of his UT career, taking BU starter Jay Lynch deep to left.
The grand slam did not stop the Orange and White offensive onslaught though as sophomore Zach Osborne ripped a double down the left-field line and Grisham traded places with him just two pitches later with his first hit of the year. Although Polk grounded out an attempt to bunt his way on board, a walk to sophomore Charley Thurber and a single by Liles made it 8-0 in favor of the Big Orange. Another RBI single, this time on Stubbs’ second hit of the inning, and a wild pitch extended the UT lead to double-digits. The final run of the stanza came when Hamaker brought Stubbs home with a single through the left-side.
While McCray dominated on the mound, recording seven outs in just 11 pitches during one stretch, the Orange and White continued to tack on the runs, scoring two more in the fourth. Grisham led off the inning with his second hit of the day and scored all the way from first just two batters later when Thurber recorded the first triple of his collegiate career. After a strikeout, a throwing error allowed Stubbs to reach base and Thurber to score, moving the tally on the scoreboard to 13-0 for Tennessee.
Neither team was able to do much over the next three frames before the Big Orange added six more runs in the bottom of the eighth. With Lee Sosa making his collegiate debut on the mound for the Bearcats, junior Khayyan Norfork drew a leadoff walk and Grisham followed by getting hit by a pitch. Freshman Chris Fritts then hit a towering shot to straight-away left for the initial home run of his UT career. After Sosa recorded a strikeout, junior Matt Duffy notched a pinch-hit double just over the bag at third base and Stubbs walked in a nine-pitch at-bat to put two on for sophomore Adam King. In just his third plate appearance of the season, King drilled a double to left to bring Duffy home. Hamaker followed with a sacrifice fly that plated Stubbs and Hawn tallied the Vols’ final run of the day with an RBI single.
Binghamton finally cracked the scoreboard in the final inning, collecting a pair of runs off UT freshman reliever Alan Walden. In just the second appearance of his collegiate career, the 6-2 rookie from Chattanooga opened the inning with a walk to BU’s John Miele. Although he was able to strike out the next two batters, a pair of wild pitches allowed Miele to advance to third. Walden then issued another free pass, this time to Mike Thompson, before a triple by Peter Bregartner brought both runners home. The game came to a close on the very next pitch though, as Walden got Joe Charron to ground out to Norfork at second to finish off the Volunteer victory.
UT will finish off its weekend on Sunday afternoon as it is slated to take on Kennesaw State at 4 p.m. at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The Big Orange will send junior southpaw Rob Catapano to the mound for his first start of the season. For more information on Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com or follow @VolBaseball on Twitter.