KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – After a stellar Opening Day start by junior Steven Gruver, the Vols were just looking for a repeat performance from the southpaw against Canisius on Friday. Instead, they got a seven-inning masterpiece in which he struck out a career-high 10 in leading the Tennessee baseball team (3-1) to its second shutout in the first four games of the season, 4-0, over the Griffins (3-2) on Friday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville.
“(Steven) Gruver was obviously outstanding, the pitching was phenomenal and our defense was great again,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “We struggled to score a bit, but (Shane Davis) is a good pitcher. He’s 30-6 for his career, so he wasn’t chopped liver. We ran ourselves out of a couple of innings, but I’m pleased. We got some clutch hits, but we also hit some balls hard with nothing to show for it. We finally broke it open late and got some breathing room.”
Gruver’s finished the afternoon with seven shutout innings, allowed just two hits, did not walk a batter and struck out a career-high 10. He opened the contest by striking out the side in the top of the first and punched out five of the first six batters he faced. In all, he faced just two batters over the minimum during his time on the mound. By the end of the game, Canisius had just three runners reach base, only one of which made it into scoring position.
“My confidence is sky high right now,” Gruver said. “I’m healthy and I feel great. I feel really strong and I’m right where I want to be right now. One of the main things I focus on is being a tone setter for our team on Friday nights. I’m just trying to get us off to a good start and keep the positive momentum going.
“Our defense makes it so much easier for me as a pitcher. We have an incredibly fast outfield and our infield has the best hands I’ve seen. You would be hard-pressed to find an infield with better hands than the guys we have. You don’t have to make a perfect pitch or try to nit-pick corners. You can just go out there and throw strikes. That’s the bottom line, throw strikes and let the defense make plays behind you.”
Through his first two starts of the 2011 season, the Canfield, Ohio, native has not allowed a run in 15.0 innings of work, during which time he has given up 10 hits, struck out 18 and walked just two.
“Last year (Gruver) went out to Oregon State and was outstanding but came back and was hurt and it took a long time for him to get back to where he was,” Raleigh said. “I think (his success this season) is a combination of development, maturity and being healthy. He’s been outstanding for us. He just does all the little things right. He picked off another guy, just like he did last week. He’s so intelligent. He’s just a great kid.”
Junior Levi Dean picked up the save, his first in a Tennessee uniform, with two scoreless innings of one-hit ball to close out the game after Gruver left with 110 pitches to his name. The transfer from Lower Columbia (Wash.) College allowed just one hit and retired six of the seven batters he faced.
Thanks in large part to the spectacular efforts by Gruver and Dean, Friday’s game lasted just one hour and 52 minutes, marking UT’s shortest contest since it defeated IPFW, 6-1, in 1:49 on Feb. 23, 2007, in Knoxville.
Offensively, the Vols made every hit count, with seven of their nine hits going for extra bases. The last time the Big Orange had seven doubles in a single contest came exactly six years ago on Feb. 25, 2005 against James Madison.
Leading the way was senior Matt Duffy with a 3-for-4 effort, including two doubles, an RBI and a run scored. Junior Zach Osborne added a pair of doubles as well, going 2-for-2 with a run scoring sacrifice bunt on a safety squeeze as well.
With Gruver sitting the Griffins down inning after inning, the Vols spotted him to an early lead with a run in the bottom of the second. Duffy ripped the second pitch of the frame down the left-field line for a double and moved to second on a fly ball to right by Matt Ramsey before coming home on an RBI groundout to second by Horne.
Back-to-back doubles by Horne and junior Davis Morgan, followed by a single by Chris Pierce and a successful safety squeeze by Osborne tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the seventh. UT’s final run came the next inning when senior Josh Liles raced all the way around from first to score on Duffy’s second double of the day.
The Big Orange will go for its second straight series victory to open the 2011 campaign at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Jon Reed (0-0, 9.00) will take the hill for Tennessee, while senior right-hander Chris Cox (0-1, 13.50) will get the nod for Canisius.
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The 4-0 shutout is Tennessee’s second in the first four games of the 2011 season…Prior to its shutout on Opening Day, the Vols had gone 209 games without blanking an opponent…The last time UT had two shutouts in the first four games of a season came in 2004 when it kept Morehead State off the board in the first two contests of the year…Additionally, the pair of shutouts also marks the first time UT has held two opponents to zero runs in a single season since the Vols shut out three opponents in 2006 (3-0 and 9-0 vs. Morehead St., 2/17/06 and 9-0 vs. LSU, 4/8/06)…Seven of Tennessee’s nine hits were doubles, the most two-base hits for the Big Orange since it had nine versus James Madison on Feb. 25, 2005…Only one Vol struck out on Friday, marking the team’s fewest since it did not strike out against Ohio on March 8, 2009…Friday’s contest marked the third errorless contest for UT in four games this season…A Vol position player has yet to make an error, with the team’s only miscue coming from a pitcher on a failed pickoff attempt…The final game time of 1:52 was the Orange and White’s fastest contest since it defeated IPFW, 6-1, in 1:49 on Feb. 23, 2007…It was UT’s first sub-two hour contest since it took out Auburn, 7-1, in 1:54 on March 15, 2009…The Vols also defeated the Tigers, 9-1, in 1:55 two days later.
Junior starting pitcher Steven Gruver set a career-high with 10 strikeouts, besting his previous high of nine set at Oregon State last season (2/27/10)…He also tied his career high of seven innings pitched which he had accomplished twice before...Gruver did not walk a batter on Friday in leading the Vols to their second shutout of the season…Juniors Chris Pierce and Davis Morgan recorded their first hits in a Tennessee uniform…Morgan also tallied his first RBI, driving in Tyler Horne with a double in the seventh inning…Matt Duffy and Zach Osborne both recorded two doubles each…Junior Levi Dean notched his first save at UT with two innings of one-hit ball to end the game...Dean is the second Volunteer reliever to earn a save this season, joining freshman Nick Williams…UT only had four saves total all of last season.