KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) - Trailing 8-0 going into the bottom of the third, Tennessee could have easily called it a day against No. 11 South Carolina. Instead, the Vols proceeded to bat around before recording an out, finishing with seven runs on six hits in the frame.
They couldn't complete the comeback, however, as the Gamecocks pulled away late to claim a 12-8 victory on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
“[South Carolina] is a regular in the College World Series because they can pitch. That's why teams I've been a part of have been a regular to the College World Series and regionals because you can pitch. We don't pitch right now and that's the problem,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “That's the ongoing problem with where we're at right now. I'm a firm believer that defense and pitching wins championships. [South Carolina’s offensive] numbers aren't that great. Their numbers aren't any different from us offensively as a team, but they can pitch.”
The loss is Tennessee’s sixth straight and sends its record to 13-16 overall and 3-8 in Southeastern Conference play. South Carolina improves to 25-7, including a 7-4 mark in league action.
Pierce Bily led a 13-hit offensive outburst for the Big Orange, going 3-for-4 with an RBI, a walk and a run scored. Four other Vols posted two-hit efforts with Vincent Jackson driving in three runs and Taylor Smart launching his second home run of the season.
After Tennessee cut the South Carolina lead to just one, the Gamecocks got six-plus innings of stellar relief from Adam Westmoreland as they held the Big Orange at bay for the remainder of the game. He struck out six and allowed just one run on Smart’s longball to improve to 4-0 on the year.
Nick Williams suffered the loss for the Orange and White, falling to 1-2 after yielding eight runs on eight hits in the game’s first three innings. Blake Thomas posted two shutout frames in the eighth and ninth, striking out the first two batters of his UT career in the process.
“You have to give kudos to Westmoreland, the guy threw  pitches last night and he comes in and throws almost a hundred today and all he's doing is playing catch with his catcher,” Serrano said. “He's got a little wiggle on his pitch, he throws strikes and he's getting people out. We're not watching the game from our side enough to realize that we can make it a lot easier on ourselves than we're making it right now.”
The 11th-ranked Gamecocks blitzed the Vols early, using a solo home run by Chase Vergason in the top of the first, two runs in the second and a five-run third to race out to a commanding 8-0 advantage.
Tennessee was undeterred, however, and promptly answered in resounding fashion with its first nine batters in the home half of the third all reaching base. Will Maddox got the ball rolling on the first pitch of the frame which he stroked to center for a single. Following a hit batter and a base hit by Scott Price, Christin Stewart wore a 3-2 pitch to put UT’s first run on the scoreboard.
Pierce Bily then added another tally with an RBI single through the right side before Jackson struck the big blow with bases-clearing triple to the corner in right which brought the score to 8-5. He would then score just two pitches later when Smart ripped a single to left. A base knock by David Houser and an SC error would move him up to third, allowing Jeff Moberg to bring him in with an RBI groundout that cut the Tennessee deficit to a single run at 8-7.
“I'm down right now but I really commend our guys for the fight that they showed from the offensive standpoint,” Serrano said. “The way things are going right now to be down 8-0, it would have been really easy for our guys to say 'well, let's fold the tents, this one's not in the bag for us today, this isn't in the cards,' but we roll a seven. We talk about winning innings and we actually won that ugly third inning. They drop a five on us, we drop a seven on them. It just wasn't enough.”
That would be as close as the Vols would get as Westmoreland was able to keep them off the scoreboard until Smart’s seventh-inning blast onto “The Porch” in left.
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks extended their lead with three runs in the sixth and another in the seventh to account for the game’s final score.
The two teams will close out the series at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Senior Zack Godley (2-3, 2.98) will get the start for Tennessee.
“Tomorrow is a big game for us,” Serrano said. “We've got to get over this hump and nothing would have been better to come back and win this game. That might have been a game that we could have looked back five years from now and said that was the game that got us to where we're at now, but I'm still waiting for that moment to happen.”