CORVALLIS, Ore. –Behind a dominant performance on the mound by sophomore Steven Gruver, the University of Tennessee baseball team was able to even its series with No. 10 Oregon State on Saturday, defeating the Beavers, 9-2, in impressive fashion at Goss Stadium in Corvallis, Ore.
A 6-1 left-hander, Gruver twirled seven scoreless innings, striking out a career-high nine while allowing just three hits and walking one.
“I thought yesterday was an aberration,” UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. “We’re a much better team than we showed yesterday and I thought we turned around and played probably our most complete game of the year today. Obviously, (Steven) Gruver was unbelievable. To do what he did really set the tone and we played outstanding defense and got some timely hits. We just battled. It was a lot closer than what the final score might indicate, but I was really pleased with how we played today.”
The victory was Gruver’s first of the season, while junior Tanner Robles suffered the loss for OSU after allowing two runs, one earned, in 3.2 innings to fall to 1-1 on the year.
A native of Canfield, Ohio, Gruver kept the ball down and pounded the zone all game, throwing 65 strikes in 97 pitches.
“My goal today was just to throw strikes and make them beat me rather than beat myself,” Gruver said. “I just tried to pound the zone and make them do something with it. Teams as good as Oregon State really punish you if you fall behind, so I just tried to get ahead as much as possible and make them hit my pitches.”
While Gruver was dealing on the mound, the Volunteer offense found its rhythm in the batter’s box after struggling in the first game of the series. Junior Matt Duffy led the way with three hits and three RBIs, while fellow classmate Blake Forsythe added a pair of hits of his own, including a grand slam to cap off the team’s seven-run eighth inning. Also picking up a pair of base knocks each were sophomores Zach Osborne and Charley Thurber, as well as freshman Chris Fritts.
Leading off for the first time in his UT career, junior Khayyan Norfork kicked the game off by grounding out to shortstop. The Vols got their first hit of the game just seconds later though, as Osborne singled on a sharp line drive to center. Robles was able to work around the hit, however, getting juniors P.J. Polk and Cody Hawn to ground out.
Not to be outdone, Gruver came out and tossed a quick zero of his own on the scoreboard. He got a little help from his defense on the first play, as Osborne made a great play on a grounder up the middle to throw Carter Bell out at first. Rob Folsom then laid down a perfect bunt down the first-base line and beat out the throw from Gruver for a single, but it amounted to nothing as the UT pitcher sandwiched a pair of strikeouts around a walk to end the frame.
Tennessee was able to strike first in the top of the second, taking advantage of a pair of walks and an error to score a couple of runs and take a 2-0 lead. Robles struggled with his control early on, issuing back-to-back free passes to Forsythe and freshman Cody Stubbs on a total of nine pitches.
He then allowed both runners to move up 90 feet when he committed an error trying to pick Forsythe out at second, but was able to record the second out when he got Fritts to swing at a 3-2 offspeed pitch. Robles couldn’t get out of the inning unscathed though, as Duffy followed with a single to right that brought both runners home. That would be all UT could manage though, as a strikeout and a fielder’s choice brought the frame to a close.
Despite giving up a leadoff single, Gruver was able to keep Oregon State off the scoreboard in the bottom half of the second, getting Andrew Susac to line out to Norfork at second before inducing a groundout off the bat of Tyler Smith and notching his third strikeout of the game when he got Keith Jennette to swing and miss on a great curveball on the inside corner.
After a scoreless inning in the third, Robles got Cody Stubbs to swing and miss at three consecutive strikes to open the fourth before Fritts smashed a line drive back up the middle for a one-out single. Duffy followed with a long drive to center, but OSU centerfield Santos was able to corral it at the warning track.
On the very next pitch, however, Thurber laced a liner back up the box to put runners on the corners and chase Robles from the game as Beaver Head Coach Pat Casey called sophomore Sam Gaviglio in from the bullpen. Although a nice at-bat by Norfork ended in a walk and loaded the bases for the Vols, UT was unable to capitalize as the inning ended when Osborne grounded out to his counterpart at short.
Gruver found himself in a bit of a jam in the Beaver’s portion of the inning after hitting the leadoff guy and giving up a single, but he buckled down and struck out the next three batters to escape with the shutout intact. With runners on first and second and no outs, Gibbs attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt on the first pitch, but was unable to do so as it went foul.
Gruver then got him to swing at consecutive high fastballs for the first out. He continued to pound the zone with Susac at the plate and picked up his seventh K with a fastball on the outside corner. Gruver then continued to add to his career high in strikeouts when he got Smith to chase a fastball out of the zone to thwart the Beaver threat.
After a couple of quick innings by both Gaviglio and Gruver in the fifth and sixth frames, the Big Orange attempted to put together a two-out rally in the seventh. After Gaviglio got two quick outs to start the stanza, Polk was able to beat out a high chopper to third for a single and Hawn drew a five-pitch walk to put a pair of runners on with Forsythe stepping to the plate. That would be the end of the day for Gaviglio though, as Casey brought 6-7 freshman Tony Bryant out from the pen. He would get his job done, ending the threat by striking out Forsythe swinging.
Trailing just 2-0, Oregon State could not take advantage of a free pass in its portion of the seventh. Gruver got pinch-hitter Michael Miller to ground out back to the mound to open the frame, but issued a free pass by hitting Susac just moments later. He was able to immediately right his wrong, however, getting Smith to line to third where Duffy snagged the ball and threw back to first to double up Susac.
The Volunteers broke the game open with seven more runs in the eighth, behind the strength of RBI base knocks by Duffy, Thurber and Osborne and a grand slam by Forsythe. After Bryant got Stubbs to fly out to left for the first out, Fritts picked up the first double of his career with a shot down the third-base line. Duffy then took a first-pitch fastball and drove it to left to bring Fritts in from second. Just seconds later, Thurber punched one the opposite way for a double of his own that allowed Duffy to motor around the base paths for UT’s second run of the inning.
Although Bryan got Norfork swinging for the second out, that would be the last batter he would face as Casey brought Dylan Jones in to face Osborne. The moved did not work out quite as planned as UT’s 5-7 shortstop ripped a single to center to score Thurber. Jones then walked the next two batters, Polk and Hawn, to load the bases before being pulled in favor of James Nygren who had hopes of retiring Forsythe to keep the damage at a minimum. Forsythe had other ideas though and parked a 1-1 pitch over the wall in right-center for a grand slam and his first home run of the season.
The Beavers finally cracked the scoreboard in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run home run to left by Romero, but it was too little, too late as senior Steve Crnkovich was able to close out the game with three quick outs to give Tennessee the victory.
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