For eight innings, the Tennessee Volunteers didn’t look like a team that had just been swept by their in-state rivals. They didn’t look like a team that had dropped a home mid-week contest to a squad three games under .500. They didn’t look like a team in the midst of a five game losing streak.
For eight innings, head coach Dave Serrano’s squad looked like a group of players determined to fight through adversity and pull out a much-needed victory over a team that had won the last two College World Series.
The Orange and White, however, came up just a bit short.
After tying the game in the eighth on a wild RBI double turned two base error, the Volunteers (13-15, 3-7 SEC) gave up a ninth inning unearned run, ultimately falling to No. 11 South Carolina (24-7, 6-4 SEC) 5-4 Friday evening at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“These kinds of games you don’t have to say much. (The team is) hurting. They wanted that game just like they want every game, and we kind of hurt ourselves to be honest with you,” Serrano said. “I just told (the team) that was a tough one, and we have to come back and get (South Carolina) tomorrow. And that’s what we have to do.”
Although the Tennessee offense pushed across two runs in the bottom of the third via Scott Price and Pierce Bily RBIs to briefly take a 2-1 lead, the Volunteer bats fell silent for the middle frames, mustering only one hit between the fourth and seventh innings.
Then Vincent Jackson’s lumber awoke.
After center fielder Pierce Bily drew a one out walk, the McDonough Ga., native crushed a fastball off the right field fence that barely missed leaving the yard. The relay throw home in an attempt to nail Bily ricocheted off the backstop, allowing Jackson to come all the way around to tie the game.
“My past couple at bats I really wasn’t getting my foot down, and I told myself kind of balls-to-the-wall, 'Forget it. It’s 2-0.' I know he’s going to throw me a fastball, and I’m going to swing as hard as I can,” Jackson said. “Once it came off the bat I knew it was hit pretty good.
“I tried to be aggressive. I saw the ball get away, and I just ran home.”
The tie score would be short-lived, though, as the Gamecocks quickly answered in the ninth off probable Sunday starter turned reliever Zack Godley (2-3).
“We decided as a staff early this week (that) to give this team the best opportunity on a weekend; on Friday we’re going to match it up with four guys, and if we’re tied or have the lead we’re going to pitch Zack in the ninth,” Serrano said. “And then we’ll start (Godley) on Sunday.”
An uncharacteristic Will Maddox error lead off the inning, and eventually turned into the winning run as an RBI double by Max Schrock followed.
“I should have made the play,” Maddox said of the error.
Although the latter innings didn’t go as planned, the Tennessee pitching staff held South Carolina in check for the majority of the contest, allowing just two runs on four hits through the first seven innings.
Starter Aaron Quillen kicked off the strong mound work, tossing 3 1/3 innings of three hit ball. Fellow freshman Andy Cox followed suit for the next 3 2/3, and junior reliever Dalton Saberhagen induced a huge double play to get out of an eighth inning jam.
“There’s a lot of good things happening out there. The bottom line is we got gobbled up by a team’s failure to win a game,” Serrano said. There’s a lot of good things happening, and I’m making mental notes of them. It’s just there is no consolation prize.
The Diamond Vols are back in action tomorrow versus these same Gamecocks. First pitch is slated for 12:30 p.m. at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.