Tennessee’s pitching staff might lack experience, but it doesn’t lack desire.
After her first taste of SEC action proved to be a bitter one on Friday evening, freshman pitcher Caylan Arnold’s confidence could’ve taken a turn for the worse.
She erased those doubts on Saturday.
After sophomore Matty Moss pitched admirably over the first five innings, Arnold redeemed herself in the relief role. The Maryville native helped Tennessee (20-3, 1-1 SEC) close its 10-4 victory over South Carolina (18-6, 1-1 SEC) on Saturday afternoon.
“(There was) no concern at all putting Caylan back out there,” co-head coach Karen Weekly said. “… she wants the ball. She would’ve wanted the ball last night if we put her back in the game… I thought she had a really good tempo about her and was much sharp with her pitches. (She) attacked the hitters and that’s really what we need.”
Moss (11-0) wasn’t in her usual form, but neither was her defense in the opening inning, which allowed South Carolina to jump out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to a pair of blunders.
The first came after second baseman Aubrey Leach’s errant throw to third base allowed Kaylea Snaer to score. Later in the inning, CJ McClain took an ill-advised trip from the depths of the outfield all the way into the infield in an attempt to catch a popup. The misjudged play resulted in the junior muffing the ball like a punt, which resulted in the Gamecocks’ second run of the inning.
Luckily for Tennessee, the Gamecocks immediately returned the favor. South Carolina’s two errors paved the way for Tennessee’s three-run first inning. It was the first of a trio of three-run innings for the Vols and two of South Carolina’s four errors.
“When you have errors… I try to stay positive and not really worry about it,” Moss said. “Because when you worry about it, you get jumbled up and things start going wrong.”
Star shortstop Meghan Gregg continued her season-long tear and put a few finishing touches on Tennessee’s comeback bid. The junior went 2-for-4 from the dish on Saturday, including a two-run blast in the bottom of the fourth, giving the orange and white a 7-3 cushion. On the season, Gregg is batting a jaw-dropping .493 with eight home runs and 44 RBIs. In total, five different Tennessee players drove in a run on Saturday.
But Tennessee’s question marks aren’t resting in the batter’s box. They’re on the mound, and although the Moss-Arnold combo still have questions to answer, Saturday’s display showcased the potential of the Vols’ pitching staff.
“It’s always awesome if you’re not doing so great and someone can come in for you,” Moss said. “… I think we have a great pitching staff like that.”
Arnold replaced Moss after the sophomore allowed a solo shot to open the sixth inning. The freshman responded valiantly to the challenge, surrendering only one hit and striking out two in two innings of relief work.
The Vols square off against the Gamecocks one more time on Sunday. First pitch of the rubber match is slated for 1 p.m. ET.
Edited by Robert Hughes
Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics