LB Dantzler delivers walk-off

Searching for a clutch hit all night, LB Dantzler finally provided one in the bottom of the ninth with a one-out walk-off homerun as eleventh-ranked South Carolina beat Tennessee, 2-1, to set up a rubber match Sunday afternoon. Tyler Webb picked up the win to move to 3-0 on the season and Jordan Montgomery threw eight innings to keep the Gamecocks in the game

Jordan Montgomery was masterful.

The true freshman pitcher from Sumter was as poised as a redshirt senior on the mound, pitching eight innings and giving up just one run on three hits.

Unfortunately, due to struggles at the plate by the South Carolina hitters, Montgomery earned a no-decision, but LB Dantzler came through in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off single that short-hopped the wall in center to give the eleventh-ranked Gamecocks a 2-1 win over Tennessee that it desperately needed. With the win Carolina improved to 22-9 and 4-7 in conference play while the Vols dropped to 20-11 and 6-5 in the SEC.

"This week we went back and did a little historical review of the season trying to think about how many runs we were scoring," Ray Tanner said after the game. "Then we proceeded to go out and make it difficult for our pitchers. But that was a tremendous effort for Jordan Montgomery. It's very rare for a freshman in the SEC to go out there and throw eight innings as well as he did tonight."

Montgomery pitched like a freshman to begin the game. Perhaps battling nerves, Montgomery left a pitch over the plate that leadoff hitter Will Maddox drilled to left. Fellow freshman TJ Costen tried to make a diving catch on a ball he had no shot at catching, allowing Maddox to race all the way to third for a triple. He would score on the next play.

"I missed my spot on that fast ball with the lead off triple, but I settled down after that," Montgomery said. "I started throwing my change up and they were just swinging through it, so I kept throwing that and mixed in some of my off speeds. I just tried to keep us in the game."

Montgomery did much more than just keeping Carolina in the game. After that triple Montgomery would settle down and take control of the game. Starting with the Zach Luther groundout that scored Maddox, Montgomery would sit down 12 straight Volunteer batters. Chris Fritts led off the fifth inning with a single, move to second on a sacrifice bunt by Chris Pierce and move to third on a weak grounder back to Montgomery off the bat of Parker Wormsley. With Fritts on third Montgomery got Ethan Bennett to fly out to left to end the inning.

That would be the last of any Volunteer threat the remainder of the game. A two-out single by Luther in the sixth would be the last runner to reach base for Tennessee as Montgomery sat them down one-by-one and Tyler Webb came in to pitch the ninth and retire the Vols in order.

"I didn't really think I was ready, but then I quickly figured I could do very well pitching against these guys," Montgomery said. "I had a little more pressure out there today because I knew it was up to me to determine if we could win the series. I just came out and did the best I could."

Montgomery ended the first weekend start of his young career with an eight-inning performance, giving up just one run on three hits and struck out seven on 99 pitches. While it is not etched in stone on whether or not Montgomery will be on the mound next Saturday against Mississippi State, he certainly helped his chances with his performance against the Volunteers.

"I would say that he deserves an opportunity to be out there," Tanner said. "He continues to impress and certainly no one is going to argue the fact that he deserves to be out there on the weekend."

Unlike the Volunteers, Carolina had plenty of opportunities to score. The Gamecocks would leave 15 runners on base in the game, nine of which were in scoring position.

"These guys are trying to be a good team and they are trying to be good offensively, but it just hasn't worked out for us," Tanner said. "I guess we left fifteen on tonight but it felt more like twenty-seven to me."

Carolina would strand two runners in each of the first three innings and left the bases loaded in the third. Carolina would finally push across a run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Adam Matthews that brought home LB Dantzler, who reached base on one of nine walks issued by Tennessee pitchers with two more reaching on a hit by pitch.

Frustration reached new heights in the fifth the Gamecocks had an opportunity to blow the game wide open. Brison Celek and Grayson Greiner were each walked on eight straight pitches and Erik Payne reached on a fielder's choice after Tennessee first baseman Parker Wormsley attempted to throw out Connor Bright – who entered as a pinch runner for Celek – at third. Bright beat the throw and the bases were loaded with no outs. LB Dantzler popped up to shortstop, TJ Costen struck out looking, and Evan Marzilli grounded out to short on a 3-2 count to end the inning. Carolina would leave two more on in the seventh and one in the eighth.

"I was saying a lot and I tried to change what I was saying each inning, Thinking eventually I was going to say something that would work," Tanner said. "I know our guys are trying awfully hard, but it's obvious that we are pressing as well."

Bright led off the ninth with a single and was advanced to second on a Greiner sacrifice bunt. Chase Vergason – who entered the game for Payne – was hit by a 3-2 pitch after Bright had advanced to third on a wild pitch earlier in the at bat. With runners on the corners and one out, Tennessee was forced to draw in the infield and the outfield. Dantzler sent the first pitch he saw deep to center well over the head of Fritts and one-hopping the wall to end the game.

"I was just looking for a pitch I could get up for a sacrifice fly," Dantzler said. "He threw a change up and left it up a little bit and I was able to square it up putting it in the middle of the field. It's not a secret I haven't been swinging at my best lately, but I've just got to keep swinging and eventually it's going to end. Just got to hang in there and keep battling."

Despite its offensive struggles and a 4-7 conference record, Carolina still finds itself two and a half games behind Florida for second in the SEC East. The Gamecocks are tied with Vanderbilt for fifth, but just one game behind Georgia and two behind Tennessee. Carolina will look to close that gap with the Vols to one tomorrow in the pivotal rubber match set to begin at 1:30.

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