No. 14 Tennessee beat South Carolina 7-4 in the rubber match of the series on Sunday behind a Megan Geer three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth.
“It’s huge to win that first series, especially when you play at home,” Tennessee co-head coach Karen Weekly said after the win. “This is the best South Carolina team I’ve seen since we’ve been coaching here, by a long shot.”
The Vols (21-3, 2-1 SEC) scored seven runs despite having just four hits. Geer’s homer, which proved to be the difference in the game, was the Vols’ first hit since the second inning.
“Megan’s a senior, and she understands how to make adjustments,” Weekly said. “She kept making little adjustments to her swing, and finally — in the most important time of the ball game — she was able to square the ball up.”
The game was a mix of highs and lows for Tennessee, however. After jumping out to a 4-0 lead through two innings, South Carolina (18-7, 1-2 SEC) held Tennessee at bay while slowly building to tie the game in the top of the sixth.
The Vols scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning by taking advantage of pitches out of the zone. South Carolina starter Jessica Elliot, who walked eight batters in the Gamecocks’ win on Friday, walked a school-record 10 batters on Sunday.
Three of those walks came in the opening inning. After Elliot walked Vol slugger Meghan Gregg and Geer, Brooke Vines stroked a pitch off of the left-center wall to score both and give Tennessee a 2-0 lead.
After walking another batter, a wild pitch moved Vines to third — then another one allowed her to score.
The Vols added on another in the second when outfielder CJ McClain scored during a rundown. After Aubrey Leach reached first on an infield single, she took a wide turn around the bag, catching the attention of the Gamecocks’ middle infielders.
While South Carolina chased down Leach, McClain sprinted home without a throw. Leach was eventually tagged out, but the run put Tennessee up 4-0.
That’s when the hits died down for the Vols. Elliot settled in, walking at least a batter in each of the following three innings, but keeping Tennessee from adding to the hit column.
“I thought that’s what we weren’t doing a good enough job of, putting a swing on the pitches when they came in the zone, Weekly said. “We were getting runners on base, but we weren’t capitalizing.”
Meanwhile, the Gamecocks did. After freshman Caylan Arnold replaced Matty Moss to begin the fifth inning, South Carolina reeled off back-to-back hits and an RBI groundout to get on the board. Tennessee quickly pulled Arnold and put Moss back in, but the sophomore gave up an RBI single to cut the Vols’ lead to 4-2.
Moss got out of the inning, but things didn’t improve in the sixth inning. The Gamecocks put together two singles and a double to cut the lead to 4-3 with one out before Tennessee replace with Moss just one inning after failing to record an out.
“I always want the ball, especially when I come out and don’t do so well,” Arnold said. “I always want a second chance to prove that I can do it, because I know I can.”
Arnold gave up a sacrifice fly that tied the game and put the go-ahead run on third with two outs, but the freshman responded by striking out the Gamecocks’ Krystan White to end the threat.
“I thought (bouncing bag) was huge, especially in that environment.” Weekly said of Arnold’s strikeout. “Caylan’s got the stuff, it’s a tough league.”
Arnold (9-3) threw a hitless seventh inning to earn the win. In total Arnold threw 2.0 innings, allowing two earn runs on two hits. Moss allowed seven hits in 5.0 innings pitched, throwing 128 pitches after hurling 60 during the Vols’ 9-1(6) run rule win on Saturday.
Tennessee travels to Columbia, Tennessee, on Tuesday to face No. 2 Auburn in the Mid-State Classic. It’s the third year that the Vols have played the Classic in Columbia. The previous games were wins against MTSU (2014) and Belmont (2016).
First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.
Edited by David Bradford
Photo by Brad Blackwelder