May 19, 2011
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Junior starting pitcher Steven Gruver twirled 7.1 strong innings, scattering five hits and striking out seven, and all nine Tennessee starters had at least one hit as the Volunteers defeated Auburn, 5-2, on Thursday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
"We had some big hits tonight with two outs, something we haven't been doing a lot of," UT Head Coach Todd Raleigh said. "We still left a lot of guys on and had some chances, but Davis Morgan did a great job getting two two-out hits. (Gruver) was unbelievable tonight too. Seven and a third innings, didn't give up many hits, only walked a couple. He was good tonight, he was really good."
Gruver (5-7) faced the minimum through the first four innings en route to posting his fifth win of the season, while freshman Nick Williams came on to record the final two outs of the game to pick up his fourth save. Auburn starter Jon Luke Jacobs (1-4) suffered the loss after yielding three runs on eight hits and four walks in 5.1 innings.
"(Getting a 3-0 lead) was huge," Gruver said. "It took all the pressure off my shoulders and let me relax out there, knowing I had a little bit of a cushion. You never have to press when you get in a big situation. You just go after the hitter and, even if there is a guy or two on base, you are still going to have the lead at the end of it. I had to battle a little bit after getting behind in some counts, but I worked through it and found it. That was the biggest thing for me. It just feels really good to get that win."
Senior Khayyan Norfork paced the Vols offensively, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored, a walk and his 29th stolen base of the year. Junior Davis Morgan added a career-high three RBIs on a pair of hits, while sophomore Drew Steckenrider knocked in the other two UT runs to set a new personal best.
Tennessee raced out of the gates, scoring three times in the bottom of the first inning. After Gruver sat the Tigers down in order in the top of the frame, Norfork drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a groundout to start UT's half. Junior Charley Thurber followed with a five-pitch walk of his own and the two runners promptly moved up 90 feet on a successful double steal. A third walk, this one to senior Matt Duffy, loaded the bases before Steckenrider brought home a pair of runs with a sharply hit single to left-center.
Although Duffy was thrown out trying to steal third just seconds later, the play allowed Steckenrider to advance to second where he scored from on a two-strike, two-out base hit to center by Morgan that put the Volunteers up 3-0 over Auburn.
Neither team managed much at the plate over the next three frames before Auburn used a sacrifice fly in both the fifth and sixth innings to cut the UT lead to just one at 3-2. The Big Orange got a pair of huge insurance runs in the seventh however to increase its advantage back to three at 5-2.
Once again, Norfork got the ball rolling in the Orange and White's favor, lacing a leadoff single back up the middle. Junior Zach Osborne followed with a perfectly placed bunt single and a sac bunt by Thurber put them both in scoring position with just one out. After Duffy was intentionally walked to load the bases, Auburn got within one strike of getting out of the inning unscathed as Ethan Wallen struck out the next hitter and ran the count full to Morgan. For the second time in the game, Morgan came through with a clutch, two-out hit, stroking a single to left to bring both Norfork and Osborne around to score.
The Tigers made things interesting in the ninth, using a leadoff double by pinch-hitter Cullen Wacker and a pair of walks to load the bases with just one out. Williams was able to work his way out of the jam, however. He first got Dan Gamache swinging for the second out before Casey McElroy hit a high fly ball to right-center that UT senior centerfielder Josh Liles was able to track down on the warning track to end the game.
Tennessee will go for the series win at 6 p.m. on Friday. Sophomore Nick Blount (1-4, 5.52) will take the mound for the Vols, while Auburn will send right-hander Derek Varnadore (5-2, 3.60) out to the hill. The series finale between the two teams is set for a 2 p.m. start on Saturday.