Tennessee’s hot start to 2017 couldn’t distract from the looming question hanging over its head:
Could the young pitching staff hold up in the SEC?
So far, only one game into the young SEC season, the answer is no.
Freshman pitcher Caylan Arnold struggled in her SEC debut for the Vols, as Tennessee (19-3, 0-1 SEC) was dominated by South Carolina (18-5, 1-0 SEC), 9-1, at home on Friday evening.
“This was a pitch selection game,” co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “They (South Carolina) were very cautious of their pitch selection…we were not cautious. We were not cautious. We were swinging at balls outside of the zone. Really, the whole game boiled down to… that four-run blast in the second inning.”
Between Arnold and Kelsey Morrion, Tennessee walked seven Gamecock batters on Friday night. The most costly set of walks came in the top of the second inning, when Arnold struck Shannon Plese after walking the previous two batters.
This left the bases loaded for South Carolina’s leadoff hitter, Kaylea Snear, who made the Maryville native pay with a booming grand slam, giving the Gamecocks an early 4-0 lead.
The Vols managed to load the bases twice during their comeback bid, but mustered only a single run from both opportunities. Second baseman Aubrey Leach said the team needs to focus on timely hitting, but gave full credit to South Carolina after Tennessee totaled three hits and left 10 on base. Leach drew three walks on Friday, while freshman Chelsea Seggern was the only Vol who managed to score.
“South Carolina is a great team defensively, and they had a great pitcher out there,” Leach said.
The Gamecocks knocked Arnold out of the game in the top of the third after Victoria Williams blasted a two-run shot. In 2.2 innings of work, Arnold (8-3) allowed six earned runs, walked five batters and struck out two. Morrison pitched the final 3.1 innings of the match, allowing three earned runs. South Carolina finished off Tennessee in the sixth inning after Krystan White slapped a two-run single to right center. White was later driven in by Tiara Duffy.
Despite suffering their first home loss of the season, Weekly remains optimistic.
“It’s one game and I know every game is important, but it’s one game,” Weekly emphasized. “…we knew what was wrong. We also knew we were young coming in and our leaders didn’t have great games themselves…we just gotta come out tomorrow, flush it and get right back at it.”
The Vols face the Gamecocks in the second game of the three-game series on Saturday. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m. ET.
Edited by Robert Hughes
Featured image by Hayley Pennesi, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics