KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UTSports.com) -- Junior Steven Gruver tossed the first complete game of his collegiate career, scattering five hits and two runs over his nine innings of work to lead the Tennessee baseball team (10-2) to a 4-2 series-opening victory over Manhattan (2-5) on Friday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
"(Steven) started out well, hit that one inning where he struggled a little bit, but he fought through it and I thought he got better as the game went along," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "Any time you get a complete game on a Friday night, especially in a four-game series, it's huge for us. He didn't have his best stuff early but he battled through it. He showed a lot of character and that why he is our Friday night guy."
A native of Canfield, Ohio, Gruver struck out six and walked just one to improve to 3-0 on the year. He has pitched more than twice as many innings as any other UT pitcher, leading the squad with 28.1. Gruver has allowed just two extra-base hits all year, including a double in the sixth inning on Friday. His best work came early and late as he sat down the first six batters he faced and faced the minimum over the last four frames.
"I didn't really have my best stuff, but I just battled through it," Gruver said. "The guys behind me made amazing plays all through the night. It was just a great experience. This is the first time I've thrown a complete game, so I'm really happy right now. I'm most happy about (battling back after some struggles in the middle innings). Sometimes guys let that carry and carry and they are out of the game by the fifth inning. I really relied on my defense today."
His performance one-upped a strong performance by Manhattan starter John Soldinger who pitched a complete game as well, yielding four runs on nine hits in eight innings of work. It was his second consecutive complete game as he allowed just three hits and one earned run in a 5-2 victory over Notre Dame last week. The loss was his first of the year as he also defeated Western Carolina on Opening Day in Cullowhee.
Junior Charley Thurber came through in two key situations at the plate for the Big Orange, driving in a pair of runs with two outs on the scoreboard, getting a single and a double. Also collecting two hits in the contest were senior Khayyan Norfork and freshman Andrew Toles. Norfork added a stolen base as well, giving him an SEC-leading 13 and marking his eighth consecutive game with a theft.
The Vols wasted little time jumping ahead, plating a run in the first and two more in the second. Norfork led things off with a walk and moved up to third on a sacrifice bunt by Toles and a wild pitch. He was almost left stranded, but Thurber was able to punch a 2-0 pitch through the hole at short to give UT the first run of the game.
In the second, the Orange and White got another leadoff runner when Fritts deposited a pitch in right for a single. Following a strikeout, a wild pitch moved him up 90 feet before junior Zach Osborne worked a 1-2 count into a walk. Norfork then promptly singled to left to bring Fritts around to score. Another single, this one by Toles, loaded the bases before Duffy was drilled in the back with a pitch to bring home another run and make it 3-0 Tennessee.
The Jaspers weren't going down without a fight though, tallying two runs of their own in the top of the third to cut the UT lead to one. A single, a walk and a hit by pitch loaded the bases with just one out. Although Gruver was able to get the next batter to fly out harmlessly to shallow right, Chad Salem followed with a single back up the box to score two.
It appeared that Manhattan was going to at least tie the score in the fourth stanza when it got a runner to third with just one out and Mikey Miranda lifted a fly ball to medium-depth in right. Thurber had other ideas, however, and launched a perfect strike to the plate to gun down the tagging runner by at least 10 feet for an inning-ending double play and his third outfield assist of the season.
Just one inning later, Thurber came through at the plate once again as well, dropping a double just fair inside the left-field line to bring Duffy all the way around from first to score and make it 4-2 in favor of the Vols.
From there, the two pitchers took over as neither team scored another run for the rest of the game. The two teams will return to the diamond for a doubleheader on Saturday. The first game will start at 1 p.m. with the second tentatively set to begin around 4 p.m. A 1 p.m. showdown on Sunday will close out the series.
The Vols will start sophomore Drew Steckenrider (0-0, 4.15) and junior Levi Dean (2-0, 0.00) on Saturday and redshirt freshman Jon Reed (1-0, 5.40) on Sunday. The Jaspers will counter with right-hander Jared Hirschberg (0-1, 27.00) and lefty Eric Luksis (0-1, 4.76) tomorrow and right-hander Mike Giordano (0-0, 4.05) on Sunday.