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Navy blue, maroon mixing into Big Orange Baseball success

Fifteen games into the 2011 college baseball season, four parts navy blue and one part maroon are blending well into the Tennessee “Big Orange” mix.

Junior Matt Ramsey’s unheard-of versatility — closer and starting catcher who is a former starting outfielder — combines with fellow ex-Farragut Admirals Ethan Bennett’s red-hot freshman stick over the weekend and Nick Williams’ emerging role as a rookie set-up man in the Vols’ bullpen.

Add some College World Series pitching experience from former FHS star lefty Rob Catapano, plus a new sidearm look that’s going well for ex-Bearden Bulldog Hunter Daniel and you have five westsiders contributing to UT’s 13-2 start.

Coming off his first college home run — a two-run shot in a 3-2 win versus Manhattan Saturday evening, March 12, during a four-game home series — Bennett added four hits, including a solo homer and three RBI, Sunday in a 15-1 Vols rout.

“We’ve been trying to shorten up my swing and stay inside the ball,” said Bennett, batting a sizzling .455 for the season. “There’s still a lot for me to learn. I know we’re going to face some really, really good [pitching], so I can’t wait to see that, and learn and build on that.”

Todd Raleigh, UT head coach, said Bennett “is a threat … he gave us a lift all weekend. He’s done a great job for us.”

Ramsey belted three hits, including two doubles, with one RBI Sunday (.277 for the season).

About Ramsey’s versatility, Raleigh said, “It’s unbelievable. He’s one of the best pitchers in the country. I think he’s one of the best catch-throw guys in the country behind the plate. He can play the outfield.

“You don’t have many players in college baseball like that, they just don’t make them that can play four or five positions.”

Entering 2011, Ramsey had limited catching experience dating back to his freshman season at FHS in 2005 “when I caught a little bit,” he said. “I caught one game [at UT] last year.”

However, “Catching’s always just come natural to me, my dad [Garrett] was a catcher,” Ramsey said. “It’s something I love doing.”

“It helps playing more positions, especially catching, it keeps me in the game because you’re in every play,” he added. “I think it helps with my focus.”

Williams, a freshman, allowed just one hit with one strikeout and no walks working the final two innings featuring a fastball “probably in the low 90s” mph-wise plus a curveball (3.86 season earned run average in seven innings).

“I think I’m going to be the late-inning set-up guy,” Williams said. “It’s going to be fun setting up for Hammer [Ramsey].”

Raleigh said, “That’s the best Nick’s looked since an early season injury.”

Daniel, a redshirt sophomore lefty, worked one scoreless inning Sunday allowing no hits and one walk (no runs allowed in 2.1 total innings this season).

Slated for middle relief work who said he “hadn’t thrown much” at UT prior to this season, Daniel added that UT coaches “wanted to drop me down” from an over-the-top delivery to sidearm.

It began with workouts last fall.

“I went with it, and it’s worked out great,” Daniel added. “I’m keeping the ball down, getting a lot of ground balls.”

Daniel’s pitches are fastball, his best, along with a change-up “and a little bit of a slider.”

Raleigh said Daniel “has really increased his role. The good thing about Hunter today, he didn’t leave a ball up. Everything was down. He can get righties out, too, because his ball runs away.”

Catapano’s career began at national power North Carolina for two seasons — pitching in two College World Series — before transferring to UT (1-0 record, 5.40 ERA., in five innings).

“It’s been a good run, but it’s not over yet,” he said.

With a fastball, curveball and change-up, Catapano said he pitches “off my fastball, but I’m pretty confident in all three.”

Raleigh said he’s going to use Catapano “in the mid-week starts right now.”


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