After a strong non-conference season, No. 24 Tennessee looked like a different team against No. 7 South Carolina this weekend.
For the second straight season, Carolina (14-5, 3-0 SEC) swept Tennessee (12-5, 0-3 SEC) on the diamond.
Dave Serrano said his team made a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes, specifically on the mound.
“There were a lot of things that changed for us this weekend,” Serrano said. “The main thing is the part I work with, the pitching staff. That was very uncharacteristic of how we’ve been doing the first four weekends.”
The seventh-ranked Gamecocks dominated two of the three games, leaving Tennessee without a win in the opening weekend of SEC play.
Here’s how it happened:
Friday: South Carolina 7, Tennessee 1
WP: Adam Hill (1-2) LP: Hunter Martin (3-2, 6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, BB, 7 K) S: Reed Scott (2)
Tennessee ace Hunter Martin held off the South Carolina offense for most of the game, but the Gamecocks broke through in a hurry late in the game.
Martin left in the seventh inning having only given up one run. Freshman Garrett Stallings gave up a three-run homer in the seventh and a solo shot in the eighth. South Carolina would score three runs in the seventh and eighth innings, putting the game out of reach. Every Carolina batter recorded a hit.
Offensively, UT struggled. The Vols managed to get seven hits, but couldn’t come through with runners on base. The Vols were 2-of-13 with runners on. South Carolina hit .529 in its 17 at bats with men on base.
Once Tennessee got two outs defensively, the Gamecocks had a tough time getting on base. South Carolina was only 1-for-9 with two outs, but did too much damage early in innings.
Like the rest of the series, Tennessee showed signs of progress and the ability to contend despite the lopsided scoreline on Friday. But like most of last season, the Vols came up short when it mattered, and folded late in the game.
Saturday: South Carolina 6, Tennessee 4 (10)
WP: Josh Reagan (2-0) LP: Zach Linginfelter (0-1, 4.0 IP, H, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 2 K)
UT had many chances to win Saturday’s game, but in the end couldn’t finish the job in extras.
Pinch hitter Matt Waldren snuck a solo shot over the left field wall to tie the game at four in the bottom of the eighth. UT kept pace with Carolina’s offense throughout, but couldn’t answer when two bases loaded walks put the Gamecocks ahead in the 10th.
Starting pitcher Zach Warren was nearly perfect, aside from a rough fourth inning. Warren lasted into the sixth, allowing just three hits. Two of those hits were home runs.
Zach Linginfelter pitched four innings of relief, throwing 68 pitches. The freshman looked good, but did walk five batters, including two in the tenth innings to load the bases with one out. Jon Lipinski allowed two walks of his own, including a close call that Dave Serrano didn’t like to bring in the go-ahead run.
South Carolina takes the lead on a full count, bases loaded walk in the 10th.
This was called a ball to bring home the run… pic.twitter.com/rGYvYgrBIv
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) March 18, 2017
Once again, Tennessee showed it had the ability to compete with one of the nation’s top teams. Tennessee’s pitching just couldn’t last long enough into extras.
Sunday: South Carolina 10, Tennessee 2
WP: Cody Morris (1-0) LP: Will Neely (1-1, 4.0+ IP, 6 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 2 K)
UT never had much of a chance in the Sunday game against the seventh-ranked Gamecocks. South Carolina took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a two-run homer and never looked back.
Tennessee answered initially. Max Bartlett singled home Pete Derkay to cut Carolina’s lead to one in the bottom of the second.
Bartlett finds a little gap in the infield here to put a number on the board for Tennessee!
After two innings, Carolina leads 2-1. pic.twitter.com/2lvCWhHMwH
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) March 19, 2017
In the fifth inning, everything fell apart. South Carolina loaded the bases with no outs. That ended Will Neely’s day. Freshman Garrett Stallings, who has been fantastic for much of the season, got roughed up by the seventh-ranked Gamecocks. Stallings gave up seven runs, four earned and five hits.
The inning lasted 48 minutes.
“We need to forget about it, honestly,” Bartlett said after the game. “Keep playing hard and things will go our way.”
With Justin Ammons out of the lineup on Saturday and Sunday due to a shoulder injury, Tennessee’s offense lacked some much needed pop at the top of the lineup. No. 2 hitter Jay Charleston was 0-for-4 on Sunday and 0-for-4 on Saturday.
Jordan Rodgers was a bright spot in game three. He went 2-for-4, putting his average right above .400 on the year. Andre Lipcius had an RBI single in each game for Tennessee, hitting 3-for-11 in the series.
Moving forward, Tennessee will need veteran leaders like Jordan Rodgers to step up and rebound from this sweep.
“One game at a time,” Rodgers said. “When the pitcher on the other team makes a mistake we’ve got to make him pay for it. They did a good job of that.”
Tennessee gets Marshall at home on Wednesday before traveling to Mississippi State this weekend. Under Dave Serrano, UT has made a habit of starting strong in non-conference and struggling in SEC play. Tennessee needs to avoid a sweep in order to get some kind of momentum next weekend.
“I think we’ve gotten a taste of what we need to get better at,” Serrano said. “We’ll go back to work…it’s building their confidence back up. As I told them, nobody anticipated this happening, but we’re not going to quit on them.”
UT deserved to win one game this series, but just collapsed late in game two. Home sweeps can’t be acceptable for this team, no matter who the opponent. Taking one series from an elite team in a season isn’t going to cut it anymore.
Serrano’s optimism remains steady after a tough opening weekend.
“There’s ability here now,” he said. “Now we just have to get over this shell shock and get back to work.”
There’s plenty of time left for Serrano’s team to bounce back and overcome this setback, but they need to show some progress next weekend in Starkville.