The Tennessee Vols baseball team was looking for a change in karma after dropping 4 straight games when it hosted the 11th ranked South Carolina Gamecocks.
South Carolina made Tennessee pay for a ninth-inning error, using an unearned run in the final stanza to edge past the Volunteers, 5-4, in a thrilling Friday night contest at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
With the score tied at 4-4 after the Vols rallied for two in the bottom of the eighth, the first batter of the ninth for the Gamecocks reached as a squibber to third was misplayed. He would come around to score two batters later when Max Schrock laced a 1-0 pitch off the wall in straight-away center for an RBI double.
Tennessee would got the leadoff runner on base in the bottom of the ninth but a failed bunt attempt and back-to-back strikeouts ended the game. Tyler Webb (1-1) picked up the win for SC while senior Zack Godley (2-3) suffered the loss for the Vols despite yielding just the one unearned run.
"It was a very short [meeting] after the game," UT head coach Dave Serrano said. "With these kinds of games you don't have to say much. They're hurting. They wanted that game just like they want every game and we kind of hurt ourselves to be honest with you. I just told them that that was a tough one and we have to come back and get them tomorrow. That's what we have to do.
"The [players] know where we're at. They're frustrated. I don't need to get on them for them to know that this is hard and this is tough. One day we're going to look back and realize that this is what made this program what it will be one day. We're going through some tough times right now and we have to just battle and stick together and keep fighting through it."
Freshman southpaw Andy Cox was fantastic out of the Tennessee bullpen, firing 3.2 shutout innings while allowing just two baserunners to keep the Orange and White in the ball game.
Making the first Friday night start of his career, fellow freshman Aaron Quillen also gave the Vols a chance with his effort on the mound, striking out three and allowing just two runs (one earned) on three hits and five walks in 3.1 innings.
"Andy's a guy that when he starts to believe in himself he's going to be as good as he wants to be," Serrano said. "He has a quick arm, he has good stuff, not great stuff but good stuff, plenty good enough to win in college baseball. It's about believing in himself and I think that's pretty contagious across the board.
"There are some guys that we threw tonight that have got to trust themselves and do what they're capable of doing. It starts with throwing strikes. That's never going to change in this game and we've got to do that. We didn't do a good job but Andy did a good job with that and gave us a chance, he definitely gave us a chance."
South Carolina got the scoring started with a sacrifice fly in the top of the second but the Vols answered right back in the bottom of the third, taking a 2-1 lead thanks to an RBI single by Price and a perfectly-executed safety squeeze by Pierce Bily.
The Gamecocks brought the contest back to a deadlock with a run-scoring double in the very next frame and that is where the game would remain until the eighth.
After three scoreless innings, South Carolina finally broke the tie with two runs in the eighth, scoring on a wild pitch and hit batter - both with the bases loaded - to go up by a 4-2 count.
Tennessee refused to go down without a fight, however, getting a huge hit from Vincent Jackson in the home half of the stanza to tie the frame. After a walk by Bily, Jackson crushed a 2-0 offering from Webb high off the wall in right. Bily scored easily on the play and Jackson was able to cruise all the way around the bases as the relay throw from the shortstop sailed over the catcher's head and bounced into the dugout.
Despite blowing the save, Webb settled down to strike out the next two batters before pitching around the leadoff walk in the ninth, after being handed another lead, to close out the contest.
The second game of the series is set for 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. Junior Nick Williams (1-1, 3.46) will take the mound for Tennessee while sophomore Evan Beal (2-1, 4.30) will get the ball for South Carolina. The contest will be televised on SportSouth with Dave Neal and Larry Conley on the call.
The University of Tennessee